Pressure grows on News Corp to strip Murdoch of chairman's role

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The Independent Online

Religious groups on both sides of the Atlantic are putting pressure on News Corp to make big governance changes to improve ethics at the tainted company, including stripping Rupert Murdoch of his role as chairman.

In the UK, the Church of England is demanding a new ethics policy to ensure that the "reprehensible" conduct by some News of the World journalists cannot happen again, while in the US, an investment manager for Catholic groups plans to assail Mr Murdoch at the next News Corp shareholder meeting with a vote on splitting the roles of chairman and chief executive.

Their efforts come at a vulnerable moment for Mr Murdoch and his grip over the company he built into one of the world's largest media empires, as even large mainstream shareholders are calling for corporate governance changes. The company's independent non-executive directors have retained an outside law firm to advise them on their responsibilities in dealing with the hacking scandal and its aftermath, a move which campaigners believe could set in train significant changes.

The non-executives are believed to be considering elevating Chase Carey, the respected chief operating officer, to the post of chief executive, leaving Mr Murdoch as executive chairman.

But Christian Brothers Investment Services, which manages $4bn for 1,000 Catholic institutions worldwide, has demanded News Corp allow a "floor resolution" at the next shareholder meeting in October to vote on stripping Mr Murdoch of the chairmanship of the board.

"So many concerns have come to light because of the hacking scandal," the organisation's assistant director of socially responsible investing, Julie Tanner, told The Independent. "It is costing investors a lot in terms of jobs, the reputation of the company, its market position and billions of dollars in enterprise value. There is a lack of oversight at the company and obviously immediate corporate governance changes are needed to restore public trust."

The introduction of an independent non-executive chairman over Mr Murdoch's head would reflect best practice in corporate governance and bring in "an extra layer of checks and balances" to rectify oversight failures that have gone right to the top, Ms Tanner said.

In the UK, the Church of England has increased its pressure on News Corp. It has £3.8m invested in the US-listed company, and has threatened to sell the stake. The chairman of its Ethical Investment Advisory Group, wrote to the company two weeks ago and the church said yesterday: "Although recent developments at News Corp have started to address some of the issues, the EIAG continues to have serious concerns. Clearly the company has a great deal to do, over time, to demonstrate that it has learned and acted upon the lessons of this scandal."

News Corp shares rose again yesterday, after the rating agency Fitch said it saw no reason to downgrade the group's bonds. "Currently, there is no evidence to indicate that the activities... at News of the World have occurred at News Corp's other businesses," it said. "Fitch does not see risk to the company's brand that would result in large, protracted advertising losses."

The directors with Murdoch's fate in their hands...

Jose Maria Aznar

Nothing demonstrated Rupert Murdoch's proximity to political power more clearly than his ability to lure the former conservative Spanish prime minister to sit on his corporate board in 2006.

Peter Barnes

The Australian executive spent much of his career in the wine and tobacco industry at Philip Morris, and retired to spend more time with his vineyard and non-executive directorships such as chairing the glove and condom firm Ansell.

Natalie Bancroft

The 31-year-old opera singer and journalism graduate was the one representative of the Bancroft family invited to join the News Corp board when it bought the clan's newspaper, The Wall Street Journal, in 2007.

Kenneth Cowley

As a former executive running a major subsidiary of News Corp until 1997, and since he has also been onthe board for 32 years, Mr Cowley would not be considered an independent director under UK rules.

Viet Dinh

The man who wrote much of the Patriot Act for the Bush administration after the 9/11 terrorist attacks has become the non-executive point-man for News Corp's internal investigation into hacking.

Sir Roderick Eddington

Knighted for "services to civil aviation", theformer Australian chief executive of British Airways is News Corp's most senior independent director and would lead any revolt against Mr Murdoch.

Andrew Knight

After being chairman of News Corp's UK newspapers arm, News International, in the Nineties, the former journalist has spent the last decade in non-executive roles in the finance industry.

John Thornton

The former co-chief operating officer of Goldman Sachs now sits on the boards of some of the world's most powerful companies, including the banking giant HSBC in the UK, and the car maker Ford in the US.

Thomas Perkins

The 79-year-old veteran of Silicon Valley's venture capital industry came strongly out in favour of Mr Murdoch continuing in his current roles. The octogenarian is a "genius", Mr Perkins said.

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