News Corp. is surveying its biggest shareholders on Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Rupert Murdoch’s succession and his family’s control of the media company, said three people with knowledge of the polling.
Shareholders were also asked for their views on the independence of News Corp.’s board, its dual-class share structure and its corporate governance, said the people, who weren’t authorized to talk publicly.
The survey results may be shared with the board, said the people. News Corp.’s goal is to inform and frame shareholder communications, one person said. Sard Verbinnen & Co., the public-relations firm hired to respond to phone-hacking and police bribery allegations at News Corp.’s U.K. newspaper unit, has been conducting the conversations. Some investors were offered to speak with Chief Operating Officer Chase Carey.
“We got a call from somebody early last week indicating Chase Carey would love to talk to us at some point, but we’re not in any hurry, we’re fine,” Don Yacktman, founder of Yacktman Asset Management Co., said in a phone interview yesterday. “Obviously they’re concerned about reaction and everything. It was a nice gesture.”
Yactkman, whose company is based in Austin, Texas, has expressed support for Murdoch and said he views the drop in the share price as a potential buying opportunity. His firm owned 58.4 million of News Corp.’s nonvoting shares as of March 31, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
Jack Horner, a spokesman for New York-based News Corp., declined to comment.
Murdoch, 80, has also received public support from Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal al Saud, the biggest non-family owner of News Corp.’s voting shares, in recent weeks, while other investors have sought changes.
Christian Brothers Investment Services, which holds 30,755 Class B voting shares on behalf of Christian institutions, has sought a separation of the CEO and chairman positions, Julie Tanner, assistant director of socially responsible investing, said last week.
Anne Simpson, a portfolio manager for California Public Employees’ Retirement System, the largest U.S. public pension, criticized the company’s dual-share structure, according to reports in the Financial Times and the Guardian.
News Corp., owner of Fox News and the Wall Street Journal, fell 16 cents to $16 today in Nasdaq Stock Market trading. The Class A shares have slid 11 percent since the Guardian newspaper reported on July 4 that News of the World accessed the voicemail of murdered teenager Milly Dowler.
James Murdoch, Rupert Murdoch’s son and the executive who oversees News Corp.’s U.K. businesses, continues to have the support of directors at British Sky Broadcasting Group Plc, where he serves as chairman, two people with knowledge of the matter said separately.
The younger Murdoch, 38, has the backing of key shareholders and directors of BSkyB, even after his testimony last week to U.K. lawmakers over the phone-hacking scandal around News Corp.’s now defunct News of the World tabloid was contradicted by two former employees, said the people, asking not to be identified because the talks are private.
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