Kelly Ayotte

Rupert Murdoch, he’s done it again. No one in human history has been responsible for payments to more current and former politicians than the world’s most powerful media magnate, and overnight he added to his staggering record by appointing former Republican senator Kelly Ayotte to the News Corp board.

She replaces Elaine Chao, the wife of Republican Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell who was tapped by Donald Trump to be his Education Secretary. There’s no guessing where Rupert’s political heart lies.

Crikey is going to build the ultimate list of politicians who have been paid by Rupert Murdoch’s public companies, whether it be for a book advance, defamation settlement, phone-hacking compensation payment, directors’ fees, lobbying, columns, television commentary or any other service or transaction.

Today we start with 10 names but do send in your suggestions here (or directly to me here).

Jose Maria Aznar: was the President of Spain who backed the Iraq invasion, booted out of office and then joined the News Corp board more than a decade ago. Total payments exceed $2 million.

Stephen Conroy: former Labor Party senator in Australia who became a paid contributor on Sky News less than a year after retiring from politics, despite being a long-time critic of News Corp.

Peter Costello: Former federal treasurer and deputy Liberal Party leader in Australia who was paid more than $100,000 to write columns for the Murdoch tabloids before giving them up when he became chairman of Nine.

Chris Bryant: former Labor Party MP in the UK who received a settlement of 30,000 pounds, plus costs, for having his phone hacked.

William Hague: the former Tory Party leader in the UK has been paid more than $1 million as a News Corp newspaper columnist.

Bob Hawke: received a total of $3.3 million in defamation settlements when prime minister, with some of these proceeds coming from News Corp.

John Howard: personally negotiated the six-figure Harper Collins advance for his memoir without the use of an agent.

Jeff Kennett: former Victorian Liberal Party premier who has received defamation payments from News Corp and more than $100,000 for his Herald Sun columns.

Denis MacShane: former British MP who received a phone-hacking settlement comprising 32,500 pounds, plus costs.

John Prescott: former Labour deputy prime minister in the UK who received a phone-hacking settlement of 40,000 pounds, plus costs.

This is going to end up a very long list and the total payments will no doubt run into the many tens of millions.

The latest member of the club, former Republican senator for New Hampshire Kelly Ayotte, will serve as an independent director of News Corp because blatant pro-Republican bias does not count when it comes to assessing board affiliation to management.

However, even with this addition, the News Corp board is still well short of establishing its desired super-majority of independent directors. This is how they line up currently when categorising the board for genuine independence:

The eight non-independent News Corp directors

Rupert Murdoch: executive chairman

Lachlan Murdoch: co-executive chairman

James Murdoch: non-executive affiliated director

Robert Thompson: CEO News Corp

Joel Klein: paid more than $10 million to serve as a senior Fox executive for four years until December 2015 after the unsuccessful Amplify education business was sold. Now serving as a non-executive director but certainly not independent.

Jose Maria Aznar: the former President of Spain, who backed the 2003 Iraq invasion which the Murdochs also championed, is into his 11th year serving the Murdochs as a director, so no longer classified as independent if you assume independence is lost after 10 years.

Natalie Bancroft: 10 years as a director and hand-picked by Rupert Murdoch to represent the Bancroft family after the Dow Jones sale when she had little commercial experience.

Peter Barnes: billed as the lead independent director but after serving the Murdochs as a director since 2004, is no longer classified as independent.

The three independent directors of News Corp

Masroor Siddiqui: joined the News Corp board when it demerged from 21st Century Fox in June 2013 and has no known connection to the Murdochs.

Ana Paula Pessoa: joined the News Corp board when it demerged from 21st Century Fox in June 2013 and no known connection to the Murdochs.

Kelly Ayotte: former Republican senator for New Hampshire who joined the News Corp board in April 2017.

In order to achieve a super-majority where 75% of the board is independent, the best way home would be to appoint five new directors and then ask James Murdoch to resign to focus on 21st Century Fox, replace Natalie Bancroft with a different representative from her family, say farewell to Joel Klein who now has a full-time job elsewhere, and then move against Jose Maria Asnar and Peter Barnes on tenure grounds.

That would leave eight independent directors, two Murdochs and CEO Robert Thompson comprising an 11-person board. Don’t hold your breath for such a reform but these changes are precisely what the British regulators should require if 21st Century Fox is to be cleared to buy 100% of Sky PLC.

*Disclosure: measured in today’s dollars, Stephen Mayne was paid more than $1 million pre-tax for journalistic services provided to News Corp between 1989 and 1999.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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