Given the industry that has emerged to sledge and analyse Rupert Murdoch after 10 months of the phone-hacking scandals, you soon learn who is worth listening to. While unofficial Murdoch biographer Michael Wolff sometimes goes too far, his analysis for The Guardian of the Parliamentary committee report was first rate. The British regulatory and political class will most probably send News Corp packing. However, my favourite Murdoch critic remains former Deutsche Bank media analyst Mike Mangan, whose 2005 farewell analysis piece was the first to properly explain that political power and dynastic considerations were what drives the leader of the world’s most powerful family. Like many a frightened politician, Mangan was severely heavied by News Corp over the years and Rupert even declared his work was "fiction" at the 2005 AGM in New York. Mangan has been writing about Rupert occasionally for Business Spectator in recent years and yesterday he went further than Wolff ever has with his prediction that the Sun King himself "is facing jail time" in the US for his wilful blindness towards foreign corrupt practices. Meanwhile, back in Rupert’s home town of Melbourne on the paper most associated with Sir Keith Murdoch, it was business as usual for Herald Sun columnist Terry McCrann. News Corp’s most fanatical pro-Rupert business commentator scored the scoop that James Packer had appointed his old UBS mate Matthew Grounds to flog his 50% stake in Consolidated Media Holdings. So, while News Corp is facing a forced sell-down of its 39% stake in BSkyB, here comes an opportunity for the world’s biggest pay-TV company to double its stake in Foxtel from 25% to 50%. However, Telstra and Kerry Stokes are obvious rival bidders. And what was McCrann’s assessment of all this? "He has to sell to Murdoch ... there really shouldn’t be any regulatory issues." McCrann and the compliant News Corp independent directors still don’t seem to have grasped the domino effect that an adverse ruling on Rupert and James Murdoch will have. It’s a bit like a casino operator being banned in Las Vegas. If someone is crook in one jurisdiction, the blot stays with them all over the world. If News Ltd journalists are unfamiliar with the concept, they should perhaps reacquaint themselves with the massive campaign The Australian ran against Labor’s appointment of Mike Quigley to run the NBN. Quigley’s sin was that French telco giant Alcatel Lucent allegedly acted corruptly in Costa Rica and Quigley was a senior executive at the time. Is really is remarkable how the News Corp board and the dwindling members of Rupert’s His Master’s Voice brigade, just don’t seem to appreciate how the world has changed. The Australian even reported today that "directors are known to have been heartened by the market’s response to the British parliamentary report, as News shares rose in New York". News Corp shares have been rising for two main reasons in recent months. First, the company is conducting a $US5 billion buyback and, secondly, investors welcome the idea that the ill-disciplined final years of Rupert Murdoch’s record breaking stint in the top job might be coming to an end. Rather that continuing a decades-long tradition of spinelessness, this is what the News Corp directors should have announced today:
After an incredible 59 years and four months building News Corp into a global media giant, Rupert Murdoch, 81, today announced his retirement from the company to spend more time with his family and focus on various regulatory challenges related to past practices. The board has appointed Sir Rod Eddington as non-executive chairman and Chase Carey as CEO with immediate effect. The board has also resolved to immediately sell News Corp’s 39% stake in BSkyB, thereby eliminating uncertainly related to the Ofcom investigation. The sale will fund an extension of the current buyback to $US10 billion. In addition, the company’s publishing division will be demerged and shareholders will be presented with a board-endorsed proposal to eliminate the dual class voting structure at the 2012 annual meeting. Such a move demonstrates the board’s commitment to improving corporate governance at News Corp, changing the culture and showing respect for basic principles of democracy and accountability.
Rather than News Corp shares rising 4c to $19.43 on the Australian market this morning, such an announcement would have sent the share price soaring by more than 15%, immediately creating an additional $1 billion of wealth to the Murdoch family. After a majority of the independent shareholders voted against the re-election of several Murdoch family loyalists on the News Corp board at last year’s AGM, it seems strange that they still haven’t got the message. The only question now is whether Rupert Murdoch will last longer than Julia Gillard. With clouds about his fitness to lead News Corp hanging over him, surely the board could at least require him to stand aside pending these various investigations. And unlike Peter Slipper and Michael Williamson, this should be without pay, which in Rupert’s case amounts to more than $US20 million a year. Not that the $7 billion man really needs it.