The News Corp AGM in New York earlier this morning was a classic example of Rupert Murdoch, 88, ensuring the event was as low key as possible, partly by limiting debate.
After making a pitch through the “Australians in New York” Facebook page, I appointed a Melbourne-raised student called Jessica Craig as proxy to ask a few questions.
Around 20 News Corp retail shareholders attended the Paley Centre for Media on 25 West 52nd Street at 2am AEST this morning (10am New York Time) after notification of this 95-page proxy statement was sent to more than 50,000 shareholders in early October.
Sadly, as you can hear from this archive of the AGM webcast, proceedings only lasted 17 minutes and 34 seconds with just three shareholders speaking.
After a very brief three-minute chairman’s address from Rupert, CEO Robert Thomson speed-read his five-minute spiel before Rupert went into a monologue on procedural matters.
The debate with shareholders started just 11 minutes and 40 seconds into the webcast when Rupert said “Yes, sir” as Jessica Craig presented at one of the two microphone, which was physically held by the attendant while she spoke, rather than handed over — as happens at most AGMs.
Jessica opened by politely saying:
Good morning directors and chairman, my name is Jessica Craig and I have been appointed proxy by News Corp shareholder Stephen Mayne. I would like to thank you all for your time this morning and ask a few questions on behalf of Mr Mayne.
Rupert then interrupted, saying: “There are two questions for each shareholder.”
Jessica replied “noted” and then proceeded to ask three questions, starting with climate change and then moving onto the impact of the Disney+ launch on Foxtel.
Mr Mayne would first like to ask News Corp’s stance on climate change. What do you believe is the global role of News Corp in the current geo-political climate? If you do believe in climate change, Mr Mayne is interested to hear why News Corp gives climate denies like Andrew Bolt and Terry McCrann so much air-time in Australia?
Rupert responded by reading out this prepared statement:
On climate change, we have reduced our carbon footprint by 25% six years ahead of schedule. We were the first North American media company to commit to science-based targets to limit climate change. We have reduced energy costs by US$18 million since fiscal ’14. Global paper policy to ensure 100% of publication paper is sourced from certified sustainable material. And print centres have achieved 96% diversion from brown fields as part of our zero waste goal. There are no change climate change deniers around, I can assure you.
Notice how he didn’t really answer the question?
Truth be known, Rupert’s journalists are the global leaders in change denialism, particularly the crew at Fox News, along with Australians such as Bolt, McCrann, Rowan Dean, Peta Credlin and many others.
Jessica threw in a third personal question about how News Corp balances sober news coverage with the need to maximise circulation but Rupert chose to ignore that one, presumably due to the two-question limit.
Rupert’s eldest son Lachlan Murdoch politely engaged with Jessica for about three minutes after the meeting on her third question, but he wasn’t given any opportunity to address shareholders despite being “co-chairman”.
Despite New York being a great media city, there didn’t appear to be any journalists in attendance and the Murdochs deliberately don’t offer a post-AGM media conference.
Given controversy over Fox News and Donald Trump, you would think some local activists would have a presence at the News Corp AGM, but the closest anyone got to a political statement today was one shareholder wearing a Donald Trump “Make America Great Again” cap.
There were no shareholder resolutions this year and Rupert advised that all items were passed but failed to disclose the proxy position, which was only later revealed to the SEC in the US but still hadn’t been lodged with the ASX by 11am this morning.
Fewer than 8 million shares were voted against the remuneration report but the 11 directors all copped against votes of between 19.7 million for female independent Kelly Ayotte and 50.96 million against non-independent insider Joel Klein.
If you strip out the 78.7 million shares controlled by the Murdochs (39.4%) the protest votes against the 11 directors ranged between 21.5% for Kelly Ayotte and 55% for Joel Klein.
In the case of the three male Murdochs, James was least popular with 43.7 million votes against, followed by Lachlan with 36.23 million and Rupert was rejected by 23.4 million votes, making him the third most popular director, but still opposed by 25.5% of the independent shareholders.
That’s all interesting news. The question is whether anyone will bother to report it.