It has been two years since we last caught up with Rupert Murdoch at one of his annual meetings in the US, but with some crowd-sourced funding underway, it now looks like November 10 will be a double-header to remember.
Catching up with Rupert at his Adelaide AGM was an annual affair for six years from 1999 until 2004. The history of Rupert’s abandonment of News Corp’s Australian domicile goes back to when shareholders voted down an options issue to directors at the 2003 AGM.
Rupert couldn’t handle having his authority challenged by pesky investors under Australia’s pro-shareholder governance rules, so he immediately set about redomiciling to Delaware and holding his AGMs in the US.
The vote to move was held in conjunction with the 2004 AGM in Adelaide, and the first News Corp New York AGM was held in 2005. We managed three visits to New York up until 2010, each of which had their own special moments, as follows:
On leaving Adelaide in 2004, Rupert promised to return with an annual information session, but this was ditched in 2007 after he was confronted about the Glenn Milne assault at the Walkleys and issued an apology of sorts. (Listen here.)
The phone-hacking scandal of 2011 put new energy into that year’s gathering, which, for security reasons, was moved to the Zanuck Theatre inside the Fox Studios compound in Los Angeles. There were large protests out the front, several live broadcasts by a range of television crews, and British Labour MP Tom Watson travelled over from London, generating a truckload of global publicity.
This meeting generated record protest votes against the directors, but there were no shareholder resolutions on the ballot because phone-hacking occurred after the deadline to lodge them had passed.
It was a different story in 2012 when a clear majority of the independent shareholders voted to separate the chairman and CEO role, unwind the voting gerrymander and opposed both the re-election of Murdoch boys James and Lachlan and the approval of the remuneration report.
The new News Corp was spun off from 21st Century Fox on July 1, 2013, and this allowed it to avoid having an AGM in 2013. Shareholders in 21st Century Fox were happy to be rid of the newspaper division, and the protest votes were down that year, although Lachlan and James Murdoch copped the biggest against-votes of the directors.
The first year for two Rupert-chaired AGMs was 2014, and he opted to have them one day apart at Fox Studios in Los Angeles, which was good value and produced plenty of interesting exchanges for travelling Australian shareholder activists.
It wasn’t so good in 2015 as they were weeks apart, with Fox in LA and News Corp in New York, so we left them alone. It wasn’t worth the effort to be restricted to just two questions at one meeting by a dictatorial and undemocratic 84-year-old executive chairman.
Fortuitously, this year we've got the 21st Century Fox AGM at Fox Studios on November 10 in the morning, followed by the News Corp AGM at 2 in the afternoon. That's two for the price of one! What will happen in between? Will shareholders be carted back to the nondescript nearby parking lot for a separate frisk and registration before taking the bus back in to the Zanuck Theatre or will they put on a tour of the studios? Maybe we could string the Fox AGM out for the four hours and then move straight into News Corp.
This is too good an opportunity to pass up, especially considering the US elections are two days earlier on November 8 and Rupert's Fox News has been instrumental in the rise and rise of noxious Donald Trump.
We'll be asking questions about Trump, plus how a man like Roger Ailes was able to run amok for years while running Fox News.
And we'll also have questions on the outrageous US$606 million in salaries and bonuses that the Murdoch men have extracted from public companies over the past 18 years, as was documented in this recent Crikey story.
This included a record $120 million in 2015-16, which will trigger big remuneration protest votes.
All up, there will be 27 resolutions dealt with across the two meetings. The full boards will be up, each company needs approval for auditor Ernst & Young, there will be two votes on remuneration practices and the Nathan Cummings Foundation has again put up a shareholder resolution to eliminate the dual class voting structure at News Corp, which will go very close to succeeding this year.
If this were Australia, Rupert would have to call for questions or comments 27 times. Alas, in the US you can jumble all resolutions together, which is how he will try and wrap up each meeting in less than half an hour by restricting individual shareholders to just two questions, each lasting one minute each, for the entire meeting, even if no one else wishes to speak.
Rather than banging on about 18C, the News Corp dancing bears should be troubled by the way their own proprietor curtails free speech at his public company AGMs. It is the height of hypocrisy from someone who lectures politicians the world over about democracy, free speech and accountability.
*Stephen Mayne is a director of the Australian Shareholders’ Association and was not paid for this item. Go here to help fund his travel to Los Angeles for the two Murdoch AGMs on November 10.