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Independent shareholders want James Murdoch out of News Corporation

About 80 per cent of non-aligned or independent shareholders do anyway according to this analysis by the BBC’s Robert Peston of votes cast at last Friday’s AGM of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation.

Nearly as many want elder brother Lachlan to leg it off the board too (although he’s had nothing to do with the News of the World phone hacking scandal and doesn’t work for News Corp) while just 14 per cent want to see the back of chairman, CEO and paterfamilias Rupert.

News Corp deputy COO James remains in place for now as he was supported by the Murdoch family’s nearly 40 per cent of votes (it owns 12 per cent of the company) and Saudi investor Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal with seven per cent of the voting stock.

But James is obviously hanging by a thread and much depends on further phone hacking testimony before British MPs on November 10 (his version of events has been contradicted by former NoW editor Colin Myler and former legal manager Tom Krone). He also faces a re-election vote at UK pay-TV operator BSkyB which he chairs (News Corp owns 39 per cent of BSkyB).

How might all this change News Corp, in particular its UK activities which James bosses?

At News Corp as a whole the key player is our old friend Anno Domini as Rupert Murdoch is 80 and said by some, notably his biographer Michael Wolff, to be deaf as a post and struggling to make out some at least of what’s going on. So even Rupert is going to have to announce some sort of succession plan and it’s increasingly unlikely to be James (although Rupert might not see it this way).

In the UK the danger might be a flight from UK newspapers by News Corp, owner of News International which publishes the Sun, The Times and the Sunday Times. News International has already closed the big-selling Sunday paper the News of the World in an attempt to close down the phone hacking scandal, thereby removing a large part of News Int’s profits.

Casual jobs on the heavily loss-making Times have been slashed (in reality a big part of the paper’s staff) while the Sunday Times is not the money-making machine it used to be. The Sun is still highly profitable but many News Corp shareholders would prefer that someone else owned it, fearing more revelations about tabloid derring do although, so far, the Sun has managed to remain above the fray.

If a buyer turned up News Corp would surely be tempted to sell. Perhaps Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal (pictured) will do his old friend Rupert one last favour.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.
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