Rupert Murdoch shows off sons to shareholders, but keeps a firm grip

Rupert Murdoch has sons on display for shareholders

Rupert Murdoch had his modern media empire family on display for shareholders.

The 83-year-old media mogul on Wednesday presided over 21st Century Fox’s annual shareholders meeting, in which he was overwhelmingly reelected as chairman of the board.

And, for the first time in at least a decade, his two sons, Lachlan and James, were seated at the adults' table on stage at the Zanuck Theatre on the Fox lot in west Los Angeles. Murdoch earlier this year elevated his sons to senior positions at his entertainment and publishing operations— further signaling that they will one day rule the empire. For years, James has had an operating role in the entertainment company, and in March, Murdoch indicated that he wanted both sons to be prominently involved in the company.

It was a bit of a homecoming for Lachlan Murdoch, who lives in Australia. Murdoch’s 43-year-old son quit his position within the company in 2005 after feeling the sting of internal company politics, but he continued to serve on the company’s board. Last spring, when the elder Murdoch unveiled his succession plans, Lachlan Murdoch was elevated to nonexecutive co-chairman of both Fox and News Corp., the publishing company.

But, for now, the senior Murdoch still maintains a firm grip on Fox and its affairs. He demonstrated that by pushing though corporate matters -- including approving election of Fox’s board members, the executive compensation plans, and the appointment of Ernst & Young as the company’s accounting firm -- and questions from shareholders in just 28 minutes.

The election was something of landslide, with Murdoch receiving nearly 599-million votes to retain his seat on the board. Only 5.4-million votes were cast against him.

Murdoch’s top lieutenant, Chase Carey received a few more votes -- 600 million. There were 5.3-million dissenting votes. Three independent board members received slightly higher results.

Murdoch’s sons once again were the least popular. James Murdoch, 41, whose standing has been improving among shareholders, received 549-million votes in favor of retaining him on the board. There were 56.2-million votes against him. He slightly edged out Lachlan Murdoch, who also received 549-million votes in favor of keeping his spot on the board, but racked up 56.4-million votes against him.

The Murdoch family controls 39% of the voting shares, which would make it exceedingly difficult for dissident shareholders to remove them.

During the meeting, Murdoch, displaying his usual in-control demeanor, was asked about his company’s $80-billion bid to take over Time Warner Inc. last summer – and its decision to walk away.

“We concluded the undoubted value created was not worth the price,” Murdoch said, adding that it became clear Fox would have to raise its “offer by another $10 or $15” a share from its proposed $85 a share.

“I just felt it wasn’t worth that,” he said.

Murdoch also used the short time to assure stockholders that the carriage dispute between Time Warner and Dish over rights to broadcast channels such as Cartoon Network, CNN and Turner Classic Movies is not a concern as it looks to renegotiate deals between the satellite provider and Fox’s channels. The current pact expires in a few months.

“I met with head of Dish and there’s no way that he would challenge Fox News,” said Murdoch.

Just three shareholders posed questions to Murdoch and the board -- with one asking how Murdoch divides his time between Fox and News Corp.

“I’m there all the time, and Chase [Carey] is right next to me and James is down the corridor.” And when he’s wearing his hat for the publishing company News Corp. “I go through the door to the other side.”

The biggest drama during the meeting was the persistence of Australian shareholder Stephen Mayne, who authors The Mayne Report, and who has been critical of the Murdoch family.

Mayne, who once worked as a journalist at a Murdoch-owned newspaper in Australia, caused some tension in his push to ask more than the allotted two questions. Murdoch conceded in allowing Mayne to get in one more question, but eventually ended the meeting as Mayne tried for more.

“That’s it,” Murdoch said. “The meeting is adjourned.”

Twitter: @villarrealy, @MegJamesLAT

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