Murdoch Gives a Weak Performance as Control over News Corp is Questioned

Andrew Kanyemba, 20 July 2011

Categories: News International (Murdoch) | Democracy | Politics | Conservative Party |

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Professor James Post of Boston University made the bold assertion yesterday that Rupert Murdoch's “credibility” as chairman and CEO of the media empire 'News Corporation' was now dangerously “haemorrhaging”, suggesting in the process that the News Corp company is suffering from the scandal involving its founder in the UK. Yesterday, after an awkward display of ham-fisted uncertainty by Mr. Murdoch during his question and answer period at the select committee enquiry, the reality of Professor Post’s assertions where revealed to be keenly and damningly self-evident.

Broadcasted live from the House of Commons this afternoon, the BBC aired an exclusive committee enquiry probing deeply into what role the enigmatic Mr. Murdoch - and his son - have played in the ever-unfolding phone hacking scandal. And it must be said that during this enquiry, the mystery surrounding one of the most powerful and frightfully influential billionaires of our times was rather pitifully debased; done with no more than feeble, and at times, laughable preclusions from the 80 year old CEO. The very first question levelled at the CEO instantly revealed a surprising level of ineptitude from Rupert who just about mustered a blank 'I don't know' in response. Things proceeded much the same, with Murdoch’s subsequent answers consisting almost exclusively of stammered phrases like “I don't know”, “I’d never heard of it”, or a simple “Nope”. When he did attempt to elaborate, his statements where congested with pointless circumlocutions and awkward pauses. Mr. Murdoch also needlessly blurted out arguably incriminating admissions to the committee such as how David Cameron secretly invited him to number 10 to be “thanked for supporting” him in last years general election campaign.

Whilst the enquiry failed to shed any fresh light upon the phone hacking scandal itself, it certainly did provide an illuminating depiction of the bumbling fragility and PR incompetence of the aged media mogul. Such an awful attempt at damage control from the billionaire certainly adds credit, not only to the notion of Murdoch's incompetence during the phone hacking scandal, but to the likely short-term benefits News Corp may wield if they were to indeed conspire for him to take a back seat in the company. The phone hacking scandal has directly caused a record drop of $10 billion off of News Corp's company value in just the last two months with its stock also losing a full fifth of its value during this short period. Moreover those who believe that the media company's problems are only confined to Britain alone are mistaken. Not only have the latest share percentage figures of News Corp's overseas ventures all shown a sizeable drop - most notably in Sydney, Australia, where they have reached a devastating two year low - but revelations of unlawfulness inside the company has gleaned worldwide attention, permeating the front pages of major Asian and Latin American newspapers too.

This poses a serious problem for the current shareholders and Board of Directors of News Corp. As president of the company, the name Murdoch has become synonymous with the company brand; a fact that has recently been to the detriment of shareholders- more so following Murdoch's utterly discouraging performance yesterday under the gaze of a live and international audience. As senior Business editor to the BBC, Robert Peston, posited yesterday, it may benefit the company if James Murdoch was indeed to stand down. While Peston sees this as a temporary fix, many others, like Claire Enders, founder and CEO of media researcher 'Enders Analysis' and independent Ofcom consultant, think it to be in News Corp’s interest if the Murdoch name was definitively divorced from the company. She has flatly stated “People’s faith in the Murdoch family’s management is diminished”.

Frederick E. Allen, a senior Editor for 'Forbes', recently published an article attempting to dismiss speculation of Murdoch's departure or devolvement from the company as being wholly improbable. Allen portrayed Murdoch as a 'competent leader', depicting the CEO as a deft figure when it comes to overcoming adversity. To back this up he cites how, in 1991, News Corporation, under the ownership of Rupert Murdoch, fought successfully to stave of bankruptcy despite an $8.1billion dollar debt and without overall backing from senior public analysts or financial institutions, all of whom where expectant - much like today - of the company’s demise. Allen also goes on to praise how today, despite its current difficulties, News Corp still holds a larger overall share of the media market in relation to its competitors. Throughout, Allen is careful to put Rupert Murdoch at the fore of these achievements.

However, to be accurate, Mr. Allen's assertions are unfortunately more indicative of the strength of News Corporation as a collective entity than it is of Murdoch's autonomous personal business proficiencies. In effect Allen's analysis fails to account for the fact that whilst the company indeed had $8.1b of debt, it still had a net worth that was over double the size of its debts. This means that in spite of the 1991 furore, the crisis was far more manageable than Mr. Allen would have us believe. Further, even if we do accept Mr. Allen’s adulation for Murdoch's former achievements as warranted, this in itself could not remove from the equation the matter of Murdoch's age - a factor that Allen completely ignores - for the truth is that at 80 years old, it’s hardly likely that this old dog has any new tricks at all.

To be clear, the idea of a Murdoch-less News Corp is not merely a mused-upon concept devoid of any practical truth - far from it. Indeed its practical effectuation, according to Bloomberg news, is already being bounced around the Independent Board of Directors in the company; divides at the executive level are already palpable.

So far, nine independent News Corp Directors have all not only “expressed deep frustration over the quality and quantity of information they’ve received about the scandal”, but they have also publicly scrutinized as to “whether a leadership change is indeed needed.". The two names that stand out so far in this palpable coup against the CEO are Viet Dinh - chairman of News Corp's corporate governance committee - as well and Thomas Perkins - a figure described as “one of the most independent of independent directors”. Both of these senior figures in News Corporation have been closely linked (perhaps rather hyperbolically) as leading the anti-Murdoch forces.

In the end it remains to be seen how far these initial promulgations will go, there is of course the matter of Murdoch’s majority share of stock in the company. However, what remains clear is that for all the stupor and mystique surrounding the name of Rupert Murdoch, it has been refreshing to see Murdoch the man, finally being challenged in an open forum for his lack of decisiveness in this scandal and scrutinised too about his ethical responsibilities inside the company. Surprisingly, some reporters are already disregarding the committee enquiry as being no less than a platform to bully and victimise Mr. Murdoch. Those claims are outrageous. What transpired at the committee enquiry yesterday was a welcome and necessary probe into the head of a plainly immoral and irresponsible corporation; it proved impressive in its tenacity against a man who, until yesterday, had long eluded public accountability. Irrespective of whether he would ever stand down, revelations of Mr. Murdoch’s inadequacies as CEO coupled with his haphazard shortcomings in the enquiry have altered - quite irrevocably - his once indomitable public image.

Categories in which this article appears: News International (Murdoch) | Democracy | Politics | Conservative Party |

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