News Corp board backs Murdoch after scandal

AFP, SAN FRANCISCO

Fri, Aug 12, 2011 - Page 10

Rupert Murdoch claimed boardroom backing on Wednesday to remain at the helm of News Corp as he worked to shift attention from the phone-hacking scandal to his media behemoth’s healthy bottom line.

“The job won’t be open in the near future,” the 80-year-old media mogul quipped, when asked during an earnings conference call whether the board was considering replacing him as head of the global operation.

“The board and I believe I should continue in my current role of chairman and CEO,” he said. “But make no mistake, [chief operating officer] Chase Carey and I run this company as a team.”

Murdoch expressed confidence in his son James, long seen as heir to the News Corp throne, but said the job would go to Carey “if I went under a bus.”

The media mogul said confidence remained strong in his son, whose rising star has been dimmed by his handling of the phone-hacking scandal.

Murdoch said any succession decision would ultimately be up to the News Corp board, which he defended as “strong and very often critical.”

Along with boasting about its latest earnings figures and prospects in the months ahead, News Corp raised its dividend for the first time in two years.

Although net income for the fourth fiscal quarter fell 22 percent to US$683 million, News Corp finished the year with profits amounting to US$2.74 billion, a 7.9 percent increase from last year.

Fourth-quarter profit was eroded by a US$254 million loss attributed to faded social networking Web site MySpace, but the company still beat analysts’ expectations.

News Corp sold MySpace, the social network which it bought in 2005 for US$580 million, during the quarter for a paltry US$35 million, bringing the curtain down on Murdoch’s tie-up with the one-time social networking sensation.

It also had a higher base in the same quarter last year, when 3D film hit Avatar caused a windfall, according to executives.

News Corp, which owns the Fox television network and the Wall Street Journal, in addition to a host of worldwide newspaper, Internet, broadcast and cable television interests, is grappling with the biggest crisis in its history.

A phone-hacking scandal in Britain has mushroomed into a full-blown public relations nightmare for the media and entertainment colossus.

Murdoch said that the company was “cooperating with all investigations,” indicating for the first time that the probe was widening to other News Corp operations.

“While it has been a good quarter from a financial point of view, our company has faced challenges in recent weeks relating to our London tabloid, News of the World,” he said.

“We are acting decisively in the matter and will do whatever is necessary to prevent something like this from ever occurring again,” he said.

During the tumultuous quarter, News Corp closed the 168-year-old News of the World and abandoned its bid for full control of British pay television giant BSkyB.

The quarter also saw the resignations of trusted Murdoch aides Rebekah Brooks, a former News of the World editor, and Les Hinton, chief executive of News Corp’s Dow Jones unit, which publishes the Wall Street Journal.