Panel named for Wall St. Journal
Two veteran news executives, two political conservatives and a technology expert were appointed Wednesday to address editorial disputes that top Wall Street Journal editors might have with future boss Rupert Murdoch.
The panel was named as part of the official announcement that Murdoch’s News Corp. would buy the Journal’s publisher, Dow Jones & Co. The boards of both companies approved the deal Tuesday after a majority of the Dow Jones shares owned by the controlling Bancroft family were pledged in support.
To win Bancroft support for the transaction, Murdoch agreed to let the new committee intervene if the top news editor of the Journal, the top opinion editor of the Journal or the head of Dow Jones Newswires was threatened with firing or had major changes in duties. Protected duties were spelled out and include decisions on what stories to run and how to spend money that News Corp. allocates.
Some of the Bancrofts and many in the paper’s rank and file still worry that the Journal will shy away from stories about the country’s most powerful media mogul, will pursue his competitors more doggedly or will otherwise reflect his interests. The Journal’s managing editor, Marcus W. Brauchli, and Dow Jones Chief Executive Richard Zannino are taking pains in meetings and memos to reassure the troops that that won’t happen.
Those named to the committee include Louis Boccardi, former chief of the Associated Press, and Jack Fuller, former president of Tribune Co.'s publishing arm, where he oversaw the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune.
Also on the panel are a former Republican member of the U.S. House from Washington state, Jennifer Dunn, and Thomas Bray, a conservative editorialist and trustee of the Earhart Foundation.
The four were suggested by Dow Jones with input from Journal editors and the Bancrofts, according to a person briefed on the process. News Corp. proposed the fifth panelist, MIT Media Lab founder Nicholas Negroponte, who is pushing an initiative to distribute low-cost laptop computers around the world. He is the brother of John Negroponte, the Bush administration’s former intelligence chief.
The five will get $100,000 a year and meet at least four times annually. If a top editor asks, the chair of the group or any three members can request an emergency meeting.
None of the five returned messages seeking comment.
Citing her concerns that such protections would fall short of “true independence,” deal opponent and Bancroft heir Leslie Hill resigned from the Dow Jones board late Tuesday.
Also on Wednesday, Michael J. Copps, a Democrat on the Federal Communications Commission, said his agency should review the purchase, which is valued at $5.6 billion including assumed debt.
“It’s interesting to hear the ‘experts’ claim the transaction faces no regulatory hurdles. Not so fast!” Copps said in a written statement. “This deal means more media consolidation and fewer independent voices, and it specifically impacts the local market in New York City.”
In 1986, however, the FCC ruled that a national newspaper -- in that case USA Today -- wasn’t affected by the prohibition on owning a newspaper and a TV station in the same market. Murdoch has FCC waivers for his ownership of the New York Post and two TV stations in the New York market.
Andrew Jay Schwartzman, chief executive of the Media Access Project, a public interest law firm that opposes media consolidation, said he didn’t see how the FCC could hold up the Dow Jones deal because there are no TV station licenses that need to be transferred. But he said the purchase could affect the waivers for the two stations.