Rupert Murdoch last official act as president of Fox was to hand the reins over to his son, Lachlan, at the company’s November 17 shareholder meeting in Los Angeles. The 92-year-old tycoon handed over control of News Corp at the company’s annual meeting earlier in the week. The family holding company controlled by Rupert Murdoch is still the major shareholder of both companies, making it clear that he’s not fading quietly into the background.
At the annual meeting of Fox Corp (the U.S. television company), Rupert Murdoch’s illustrious 70-year career was summarized in a concise five-minute video by his son and successor. Murdoch graciously acknowledged the ovation from those in attendance, but refrained from speaking throughout the 30-minute event. However, he did address the November 15 meeting of News Corp, the sprawling conglomerate that encompasses the pay television business in Australia, newspapers, publishing houses and a real estate brokerage.
“As you know, I’ll become chairman emeritus and Lachlan will be the sole chairman of News Corp. Lachlan is a principled leader, and a believer in the social purpose of journalism… I hope to continue playing an active role in the company,” said Murdoch at the short, virtual meeting in which he was asked whether he would earn a salary as president emeritus. “Simple — no,” replied the tycoon. But in large companies like this one, things aren’t usually simple. “Mr. Murdoch will not receive a salary, but certain expenses will be reimbursed,” said CEO Robert Thomson, without offering further details.
A new News Corp board of directors was elected using an online voting process. The oldest board member is now Spain’s former Prime Minister José María Aznar. The 70-year-old, who has already served 10 years on the board, received the highest number of no votes from shareholders — 24.7 million, slightly over 14% of the voting shareholders. Thomson received the most support, with 174 million votes in favor and only 613,000 against. When another shareholder asked Murdoch to share memories and regrets from his career, he responded by doing neither.
Earlier in the meeting, he gave a three-minute speech about the international situation and the media. “The world is facing multiple international crises that demand attention and understanding. After the barbaric attack on Israel and the ensuing tragedies in the region, the rise of virulent anti-Semitism should be of serious concern to all thoughtful people.” He made special mention of their journalists who courageously cover conflicts in Ukraine and the Middle East, and as well as Evan Gershkovich from The Wall Street Journal, who Murdoch said was unjustly imprisoned in Russia simply for doing his job.
“There is no doubt that we should all be concerned about the suppression of debate by an intolerant elite who regard differing opinions as anathema,” said Murdoch in his remarks at the News Corp meeting. “My life has certainly been fortunate. We are blessed to live in a country where dreams are not yet subject to regulation. There are so many inspiring stories around us of those who have created much social good from humble beginnings. Like my father, I believe that humanity has a ‘high destiny,’ and Lachlan certainly shares that belief. That sense of destiny is not just a blessing but a responsibility.”
Murdoch’s companies are in good shape, although with some looming unknowns. The group’s assets are top-notch, and the companies are well-capitalized and profitable. However, some businesses are declining or going through transformations. The audience of its linear television channels is getting older, newspaper sales are dropping, and the group competes with much larger media companies like Comcast, Netflix, Disney and Charter.
Some major legal issues still linger, notably Smartmatic’s $2.7 billion defamation lawsuit against Fox, which is similar to the Dominion Voting Systems case that Fox settled out of court for $800 million. One shareholder repeatedly raised concerns at the Fox meeting about how legal expenses are impacting executive salaries.
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