The Deadline team is covering the News Corp shareholders meeting inside and outside LA’s Fox Studios. Nikki Finke is now writing from staff and news reports.
4TH UPDATE, NOON WRITETHRU: News Corp.’s annual shareholder meeting today at LA’s Fox Studios turned into a pitched battle of words and accusations and insults. Rupert Murdoch’s critics lined up at two microphones and vented their anger at what they consider to be a corporate culture run amok. At the same time the Chairman/CEO’s defenders opposed the shareholder calls for better corporate governance and the separation of the chairman/CEO title in order to have a CEO independent of Murdoch. Rupert, for his part, could barely stay polite when he was challenged again and again. “I hate to call you a liar, but I don’t believe you,” he cut off shareholder Stephen Mayne, director of the Australian Shareholders Association who was criticizing News Corp’s corporate governance. Edward Mason of the Church of England spoke in support of the motion that would oust Murdoch as chairman. But Murdoch interrupted Mason almost immediately, saying “your investments haven’t been that great”.
Other shareholders were focused on the UK phone hacking scandal and its origins within the company. UK parliament member Tom Watson caught a plane from London to LA just to confront Murdoch during today’s shareholders meeting. He asked in a very British polite way whether the chairman and CEO was aware of more allegations, this time of computer hacking, at News Corp-owned newspaper News of the World. Murdoch said he wasn’t and responded, “I have assured that what went wrong a few years ago and the recent rumors by you is being worked out with the police. We will put this right.” Watson was interrupted by News Corp board member and Murdoch ally Viet Dihn, who said, “We’re fully cooperating with the police and aren’t permitted to comment on allegations per their instruction. I welcome any information you have for our investigation after the meeting.” But Murdoch told the shareholders: “I promise you absolutely that we will stop at nothing to get to the bottom of this and get it right.”
Murdoch also tried to reassure shareholders that News Corp was doing well financially, boasting about “digital treasure droves” from New Media and results showing that cable channels were providing half of the company’s total profit. ‘But that didn’t appear to calm the shareholders at the microphones. Especially with institutional investors like Calpers, the Christian Brothers investment services, and the Australian Shareholders Association calling for an independent CEO.
Outside, members of the media and police far outnumbered a small group of protesters numbering about 50 in total who gathered at the main gate of Fox Studios. Occupy Los Angeles, according to information posted on the Occupy Wall Street offshoot’s website, planned to protest “one-sided reporting, job cuts, phone hacking, and bad governance.” Besides a “Fox News Lies” banner, protesters seemed to focus mainly on animal rights and anti-war issues. There was no disruption to the work of studio employees who were allowed to go in without incident.
2ND UPDATE, 9:45 AM: News Corp intentionally drove the shuttle carrying media to the shareholders meeting on the Fox lot through a side gate so the press wouldn’t see the protesters.
UPDATE, 9:59 PM: A British Member of Parliament scheduled to join News Corp stockholders inside Fox’s Zanuck Theatre is expected to address protesters in front of the studio on Pico Boulevard before heading into the meeting, one of the organizers told Deadline late Thursday. Labor Party MP Tom Watson, a key figure in the Parliament’s investigation of the phone-hacking scandal, has said he plans to present new allegations of other types of technological surveillance methods News Corp has used in addition to phone hacking by representatives of the now-defunct News of the World. Holders of proxy shares — apart from institutional and other groups who plan to vote against Murdoch-allied board members — are also certain to have harsh questions for company execs.
PREVIOUSLY, 7:31 PM: News Corp shareholders arriving for their annual meeting Friday at the Fox lot on Pico Blvd. in West Los Angeles will encounter some uninvited greeters bearing unhappy tidings. Occupy Los Angeles, according to information posted on the Occupy Wall Street offshoot’s website, plans to protest “one-sided reporting, job cuts, phone hacking, and bad governance.” Rupert Murdoch and other company leaders are expected to hear from a major pension fund and other stockholder groups disgruntled by the way members of the Murdoch family and their supporters on the board have handled the phone-hacking scandal in the U.K. and other company activity. Those shareholders may be allowed to lodge their complaints but lack the clout or votes to remove any of the Murdochs or their supporters from the board. At least they’ll get inside the meeting. Occupy L.A. protesters are extremely unlikely to get beyond the front gate or anywhere on the lot, let alone near the studio’s Zanuck Theater where the meeting is being held. Studio security will be tighter than usual, and anyone without authorization won’t get beyond the gate. Efforts to reach protest organizers were unsuccessful.
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