For the season's most (or only) truly anticipated quarterly earnings call, News Corp. put Rupert Murdoch, chairman and CEO, on the line to field questions from financial analysts and members of the media.
Unsurprisingly, members of the financial community—unwilling to compromise access to the company’s top brass by adding heat to an already fiery corporate climate—kept the questions dry and business as usual by focusing on comps, margins, and 2012 guidance.
The press, however, took the opportunity to grill Murdoch on hot-button issues surrounding the company in the wake of the now-shuttered News of the World phone hacking scandal.
The first item on the press’ agenda was leadership succession at News Corp. When asked by a reporter whether Murdoch believed the News Corp. board would support him in appointing his son James as CEO in the near future, the 80-year-old Murdoch responded, “I hope that the job won’t be open in the near future.” After a fit of laughter by News Corp. executives, Murdoch moved on to say that if anything happened to him, president and COO Chase Carey could fill his shoes—but quickly followed up by saying, “Chase and I have full confidence in James.”
On the issue of whether the independent directors who sit on the News Corp. board are truly autonomous and if changes to the board’s composition might be afoot, Murdoch responded that he “doesn’t plan changes”—and he doesn’t agree that his independent directors are, in fact, not independent.
When asked what measures the company is undertaking to sniff out similar activity to the phone hacking employed at News of the World throughout its various news holdings, Murdoch responded, “We’re cooperating with all investigations. . . . We are totally committed to absolute transparency throughout the whole company.”
When pressed to explain what steps are being taken at News Corp. to be sure future misdeeds come to the CEO’s attention faster than those in the U.K. allegedly did, Murdoch said that “in retrospect, we should have continued investigating” after the first two arrests and convictions in 2007. Still, Murdoch did not outline any new safeguards the company has considered implementing to avoid further illegal activity by its journalists.
The conference call concluded with a heated question regarding the board’s decision that Murdoch would continue on as the company’s CEO—a decision made by a board composed primarily of Murdoch's family members, employees, and old cronies. Before the reporter got to his actual question, Murdoch interrupted and said, “That’s not true.” Murdoch characterized Viet Dinh—a former government attorney, a close friend of Murdoch’s son, and godfather to one of Murdoch’s grandchildren—as a “completely independent director.” With that, the call came to an abrupt end.