David Prosser: Two chances to hold the Murdochs to account

 

Outlook Next Friday's annual general meeting of News Corporation might just provide the sort of drama befitting its venue, Los Angeles. Day by day, the calls are growing louder for News Corp shareholders to show some backbone over the phone-hacking affair – no longer are demands for a protest against Rupert Murdoch and his sons the preserve of the sort of tree-hugging activistinvestors who are routinely ignored by the majority. With proxy advisers such as Institutional Shareholder Services yesterday guiding shareholders towards voting against the re-election of the Murdochs as company directors, this has become a mainstream issue.

Still, the corporate governance concerns at News Corp pre-date the phone-hacking affair – and one of them prevents any effective challenge to the Murdochs' control. Never mind that Rupert Murdoch remains both chairman and chief executive of News Corp. The more pressing matter is the dual share structure, with most investors limited to holding stock with no voting rights.

There are those who regard next Friday's meeting as an opportunity for News Corp to draw a line under the phone-hacking affair, at least from a corporate perspective. They are quite mistaken, for there is another glaring matter of governance that must also be addressed: the chairmanship of James Murdoch, left, at BSkyB.

Investors in the British company do not get their say until 29 November (the Sky agm is later than usual this year). By then, Mr Murdoch may well have undergone another embarrassinginquisition at the hands of the select committee. Either way, investors in Sky should question whether Mr Murdoch, even more closely associated to the hacking scandal than his father, is a fit and proper chairman for their business, let alone whether he can be an independent chairman when his day job is at a company which owns almost 40 per cent of Sky and which was so desperate to buy it.

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