Despite growing opposition from shareholders of British broadcaster BSkyB, as expected, James Murdoch has been re-elected as chairman at the company’s annual meeting. According to the AP, 81.24% of shareholder votes were in favor of retaining Murdoch, with 18.76% going against. Speaking of Murdoch, deputy chairman Nicholas Ferguson told the attendees: “He runs an excellent board. Discussions are open and frank, his chairing is very good. He has put in place strong governance procedures. He has a strong strategic view.” Shareholders had asked for Murdoch’s resignation because of the phone-hacking scandal at News Corp’s UK newspaper publishing division News International, of which Murdoch is also chairman. News Corp owns 39% of BSkyB. The conglomerate was on path to acquiring the remaining 61% earlier this year but had to abandon the attempt in light of the hacking controversy. “The vote is as expected but that doesn’t mean it will not have an impact,” Sanford Bernstein analyst Claudio Aspesi told Reuters today. “Murdoch will have to work hard to get his image back with the institutional investment community to where it was before the scandal broke.” Murdoch also recently survived a vote by News Corp shareholders, many of whom wanted to remove him from the board of directors. He was ultimately re-elected with 65%.
UK Media Ethics Inquiry Hears Celeb Horror Stories: JK Rowling & Sienna Miller Testify; CNN’s Piers Morgan To Be Questioned
Horror stories of car chases, intense paranoia, spitting paparazzi, and most of all an ineffective regulatory system peppered today’s inquiry into News Corp’s News Of The World phone hacking scandal by a British government-backed inquiry into UK press ethics and practices. Notably appearing in London Thursday were actress Sienna Miller and Harry Potter author JK Rowling. Also giving evidence was media lawyer Mark Thompson whose client Hugh Grant gave evidence at the inquiry earlier this week. Thompson accused the UK’s Press Complaints Commission, which is the body that deals with complaints about the editorial content of newspapers and magazines, of being ineffective. “Some of the worst offenders are photographic agencies and paparazzi and the PCC can’t control them,” he said. Also on Thursday, the Leveson Inquiry announced that it would call former British newspaper editor Piers Morgan as a witness to talk about UK media methods. Morgan, who now hosts CNN’s Piers Morgan Tonight, said he would appear soon. Hearings will resume Monday with testimony from singer Charlotte Church among others.
BSkyB Board Backs James Murdoch Following Testimony MPs Appear To Accept As Spectacularly Ill-Informed
James Murdoch can breathe a little easier, if Parliament’s conclusion about his and former employees’ roles in phone-hacking plays out the way the Guardian predicted Friday. While Murdoch’s MP inquisitors seem inclined to believe the News International chairman’s assertions …
Rupert Murdoch’s not-quite-so-apparent-heir James will face even tougher questioning Thursday when he returns to Parliament for more testimony about the phone-hacking scandal that has shaken the News Corp empire. In the latest of a string of disclosures since the UK’s culture media and sport select committee last interviewed Murdoch, The Guardian revealed over the weekend that News International’s disgraced former CEO Rebekah Brooks received $2.7 million, use of a London office and chauffered limousine for two years as part of her severance package when she was fired in the wake of the scandal. ”It is remarkably curious that such a generous package is given to Ms. Brooks when others have been cut loose,” said Tom Watson, the member of parliament who has taken the lead in efforts to expose the scandal surrounding News Of The World. “It is almost as if she hasn’t really left the company. I am sure Mr. Murdoch will want to explain the decision to his shareholders.” Scotland Yard on Friday arrested a journalist from News International paper The Sun as part of a related investigation into News Corp employees bribing police and other government officials. Brooks was editor between 2003 and 2009 before being elevated to chief executive of News International.
Hacking Update: News Corp’s UK Arm Offers Compensation Plan As Number Of Victims Rises; Arrest At Murdoch-Owned Sun
News Corp’s UK newspaper arm News International, the company that controlled the now-shuttered tabloid News Of The World, has set up a website for victims of the paper’s admitted phone-hacking scandal to seek compensation rather than go to trial. …
The Metropolitan Police in London have found a cell phone hidden in the newsroom of News Corp’s now-shuttered News Of The World newspaper that they believe was the one used to hack into hundreds of voicemails. That’s the illegal practice that has ensnared News Corp in a scandal that has been felt all the way to the conglomerate’s board and the Murdoch family that controls it. The Financial Times reports the phone could have been used more than 1,000 times to hack phones between 2004 and 2006, and that it is the first piece of physical evidence that the practice was going on inside the walls of the tabloid. The phone is registered to News International, News Corp’s UK newspaper arm; several ex-News International and NOTW employees have been arrested and questioned in the police’s Operation Weeting investigation. The next big news in the probe could come from James Murdoch, the head of News Corp’s European operations, who is scheduled to re-appear in front of a parliamentary panel November 10.
OK, so based on the makeup of News Corp’s voting shares — they are 40% controlled by Rupert Murdoch and his family, as well as 7% by ally Prince Alwaleed bin Talal — there was no way any of the Murdochs were in danger of being kicked off the board of directors during a vote at last week’s shareholders meeting. But the results, which News Corp made official in SEC documents today, are striking anyway as they show the huge number of company investors who are against Rupert and his sons James and Lachlan. In all, 433,028,510 votes (in shares) were in favor of James Murdoch’s re-election to the board, while 232,013,203 were against, giving the executive and focal point of News Corp’s hacking scandal in the UK the most “no” votes of any of the 15 board members. For Lachlan Murdoch, it was 440,906,956 for and 224,151,616 against, and for Rupert it was 561,685,725-91,798,107. Other board members also had higher-than-normal votes against. The question is, will the optics of so much dissent in the ranks make Rupert acknowledge that there is a problem, and then will he do something to address that problem? The smart money is on no way.
Report: Evidence Suggests News Corp’s UK Newspaper Group Knew About Phone-Hacking Earlier Than It Claims
More trouble for James Murdoch today: UK police told several News International executives — including former CEO Rebekah Brooks — in 2006 that several News of the World journalists were involved in phone hacking, according to a report today in The Independent. The paper says it has “strong circumstantial evidence” that in August 2006 a senior police officer supplied names of lawbreaking reporters to Brooks. She’s one of Rupert Murdoch’s closest allies and was arrested by Scotland Yard in July.
The report raises new questions about Murdoch’s claim that he believed as late as 2008 that only one reporter — former NOTW royals reporter Clive Goodman — had been implicated. The date is important: Murdoch maintains that he wasn’t trying to cover up the extent of the scandal in 2008 when he paid an astronomical $1.4M settlement to a hacking victim who was aware of a second reporter’s involvement — on the condition that the matter be kept secret.
Can News Corp Escape Scandal Unscathed?
There’s not much good blood between Ted Turner and Rupert Murdoch (maybe Turner challenging Murdoch for a fist fight once has something to do with that), but still, Turner’s suggestion that Murdoch step down from News Corp for the company’s role in the UK …
EMMYS: Fox Nixes Alec Baldwin Joke About News Corp Phone-Hacking Scandal In Opening Bit; Baldwin Walks, Replaced By Leonard Nimoy
EXCLUSIVE: The opening video for tonight’s Primetime Emmy Awards on News Corp-owned Fox was supposed to feature 30 Rock star Alec Baldwin playing a fictional president of television. But after a joke about News Corp topper Rupert Murdoch and the ongoing UK phone-hacking scandal involving his media empire was cut from the pretaped bit, Baldwin pulled out. He was replaced at the last minute by Star Trek veteran Leonard Nimoy, who re-did the skit sans the News Corp joke. Baldwin vaguely referenced the incident in a Sept. 17 tweet. “I did a short Emmy pretape a few days ago. Now they tell me News Corp may cut the funniest line.” Sources say that Baldwin worked with the writers who penned the script for the skit. He taped it, but after hearing that the Murdoch joke was being cut, he told the network that he prefers if the bit with him doesn’t air at all.
Hacking Update: Attorney General Meets With 9/11 Families; News Corp Reportedly Paying Arrested UK Editor’s Legal Fees
Today’s meeting between U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and a group of family members of 9/11 victims was held in Washington and lasted more than hour, according to attorney Norman Siegel, who represents the 9/11 families. The group sought the meeting in the wake of reports that News Corp reporters may have attempted to hack into victims’ family members’ phone numbers, much in the same way journalists at Rupert Murdoch’s News of the Worldhacked into phones of the families of London bombing victims and murdered children, as well as of politicians and celebrities. That fallout from that scandal caused NOTW to shutter and eventually ended News Corp’s bid to take over the UK’s biggest satellite TV provider BSkyB. Holder didn’t say today whether there were phone records indicating tampering on this side of the pond, Siegel said, but did say that the FBI investigation is in the preliminary stages.
Sky in late July announced its fall original TV line-up. New comedy shows include Gates, script-edited by Jennifer Saunders (Absolutely Fabulous); Starlings, executive produced by Steve Coogan; and Spy, starring Brit TV mainstay Robert Lindsay about a father and son who are both secret agents. Fall dramas include the return of Strike Back, the first co-production between Sky and HBO/Cinemax, and a new version of Treasure Island, starring Elijah Wood, Eddie Izzard and Donald Sutherland. Mad Dogs, Sky’s psychological thriller, returns for a second season in January. And Naveen Andrews (Lost) stars in Sinbad, Sky’s biggest original drama commission yet, due to air fall 2012.
These new Sky shows are part of the $951 million annual push into original TV production announced by Jeremy Darroch, CEO of BSkyB. In a TV economy in which cash from other broadcasters is drying up, Sky’s move into home-grown programming is a welcome UK boost. Until now, Sky has mainly relied on movies and sports to drive subscribers. and it has relied on U.S. shows such as The Simpsons, Lost and 24 to attract customers. This is about to change. Original drama hours will more than triple to 60 hours a week by 2014. Sky currently spends $619 million a year on original content. BSkyB has huge financial resources to support its programming ambitions. The company reported a 10% rise in revenue in the year-end to June 2011 to $10.7 billion. Enders Analysis, the London-based research house, predicts BSkyB’s revenues will rise to $13.2 billion in 2015, exceeding the combined revenues of rivals the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Five. Sophie Turner-Laing, managing director of entertainment and news, tells me that Sky Studios will be at the heart of this programming push. “We so wanted to have entertainment produced on site,” she says.
BSkyB is not just making new shows for its Sky1 general entertainment channel. It is also developing bigger projects for its Sky Atlantic channel to sit alongside U.S. imports Boardwalk Empire, Game of Thrones and Blue Bloods. Three U.S. networks, including at least one cable channel, are vying to buy Hit and Miss, Sky’s first original program for Sky Atlantic. Chloe Sevigny stars as a transsexual hit-woman in Hit and Miss, which is currently filming in Manchester. The show is executive produced by Paul Abbott, who wrote BBC drama State of Play.
Sky is pushing hard into original TV partly because it is becoming increasingly difficult to attract new subscribers. Sky has spent heavily on Hollywood movies and sports to reach its current 10.1 million customers. It wants to add entertainment to attract those who have resisted Sky so far. The move will allow Sky to appear better value to new and existing customers. And, in particular, attract more women, who aren’t so keen on premium sports and movies. Sam Chisholm, a previous Sky CEO, has described BSkyB’s lack of women customers as the “female handbrake” holding it back. Backed up by the $1.8 billion Sky spends on marketing each year – which includes subsidising all its set-top boxes — the broadcaster hopes to release the female handbrake.
David Elstein, former BSkyB director of programmes, says the broadcaster has reached the point where it has to show not just more but better programs as well. “It took HBO 20 years to reach that stage so BSkyB is on track,” he said. “There is a limit to what return you get from spending on sport, there is nothing more to be done on movies, there are no new channels to induce into the Sky package, technology investment has peaked. But Elstein remains bullish on its long-term prospects. ”BSkyB will see itself competing with HBO, AMC and Showtime in terms of drama and perhaps comedy, rather than the BBC and ITV.”
Meanwhile just completed is Sky Studios, the pay-TV behemoth’s new $379 million TV facility that opened in July. What a difference from two decades ago when Rupert Murdoch said his whole Sky TV enterprise was being launched on “a wing and a prayer. His News Corp would eventually craft a $14 billion bid for complete control that is now a very public failed deal.
The board of directors at BSkyB has unanimously voted to keep James Murdoch as CEO after meeting in London today and also approved a $1.6 billion stock buyback. Both moves were expected; Murdoch is deputy COO of News Corp, which …