The media baron faces tough questions about phone hacking scandal — vote results due later Friday
Updated 2:53 p.m. PT
Rupert Murdoch and his sons, Lachlan and James, survived a shareholders' vote on Friday. The entire clan was re-elected to News Corp.'s board of directors, the company announced.
Though it is the Murdochs that drew the headlines leading into the meeting in Los Angeles, the shareholders re-elected all 15 board members.
An attempt by some activist investors to appoint an independent chairman of the board was denied. In addition, shareholders approved the company's executive compensation and other management proposals.
Although News Corp.'s annual shareholders' meeting was a contentious one, marred by protests and allegations of more hacking, Murdoch's hold on the company was seen as impenetrable. The Murdoch clan controls 40 percent of the voting stock.
Voting results are being finalized and will be filed with the SEC early next week, News Corp. said.
Still the victory was hard-fought. Murdoch was forced to endure nearly an hour and a half of grilling and grievances from investors Friday morning on the Fox lot.
News Corp.'s meeting closed Friday at roughly 11:30 a.m. PT, after the company's chairman faced tough questions about the extent of a phone hacking scandal that has engulfed his media empire.
Murdoch tried to quiet the storm with a mixture of contrition and combativeness.
On the one hand, he apologized, telling investors that there is "no excuse" for the phone hacking that took place at News Corp.'s string of U.K. tabloids.
"There are real issues, that we must confront and are confronting," Murdoch said. "We could not be taking this more seriously, or listening as intently to criticisms."
On the other hand, he offered retorts to investors who questioned his leadership and dismissed accusations about the extent to which phone hacking was practiced at News Corp.'s print properties.
The gathering of investors kicked off at Century City amid protests and calls for Murdoch's resignation.
British MP Tom Watson had told press before the meeting that he planned to expose a wider chain of wrongdoing at News Corp., but he failed to present any new evidence on Friday.
Instead, he only hinted that a computer hacking scandal "would be the next shoe to drop."
In response, Murdoch said that he was unaware of any allegations related to computer surveillance.
Murdoch made light of the Labour minister's grilling, noting that he was allowed to appear on Fox News this morning. That's "fair and balanced," he joked.
The often testy gathering required Murdoch to maintain a balancing act throughout forcing him to answer critics by dismissing more explosive charges or defusing them with humor.
The difficulty of this posture was in evidence during Murdoch's introductory remark, which praised the company's successes while lamenting recent improprieties.
"If we hold others to account, then we must hold ourselves to account… which is why we have devoted so many resources to get to the heart of this matter… and why I am personally determined to right whatever wrong has been committed and to ensure that it does not happen again anywhere in our company," Murdoch said.
In particular, he complimented directors Joe Klein and Viet Dinh for overseeing the company's internal investigation into hacking.
After Murdoch finished, some shareholders expressed their outrage at his handling of the scandal and called for an independent board chairman.
Australian journalist and shareholder Stephen Mayne pointed out that Dinh, an "independent director," is the godfather to the child of Lachlan Murdoch, Rupert's eldest son, while U.K. Parliament member Tom Watson and others said thousands of people had been hacked by News Corp.'s now-shuttered tabloid, the News of the World.
News Corp. officials began to try to cut off some of the shareholders, as Rupert grew increasingly frustrated. He called Mayne a liar and denied the number of hacking victims and potential lawsuits.
He also faced tough grilling about how much money had been set aside to deal with lawsuits stemming from the wrongdoings — some alleged, some proved — at papers such as News of the World. However, Murdoch refused to disclose precise compensation and dismissed claims that the number of victims numbered in the thousands.
Murdoch and his loyalists, such as Dinh, maintained that the 80-year old chairman was best equipped to clean up the mess at the company and that News Corp. was turning a corner on a particularly stormy period.
"The story of our company is the stuff of legends," Murdoch said at the opening of the meeting. "From a small newspaper in Adelaide, to a global corporation based in New York with a market cap of $44 billion… informing, entertaining and educating at least a billion people each day."
Protestors from the Occupy Wall Street movement swamped the street outside the Fox lot, chanting, "We are the 99 percent."
They carried signs with provocative slogans such as "Fire the Murdoch Mafia" and "News Corp. Isn't Above the Law."
A large percentage of the protesters were there to harangue Murdoch for animal cruelty, including one man who brought a sign with fake dead animals on it.
Police and media were out in full force, as helicopters circled overhead. The officials there eventually outnumbered the demonstrators.
As the meeting commenced, Murdoch touched upon the phone hacking scandal that has dogged him for months and led to multiple investigations into illicit activity.
"We cannot just be a profitable company," Murdoch says. "We must be a principled company…that is why we must admit to and confront our mistake, and establish rigorous and vigorous procedures to put things right."
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