|A section of News Corp investors have called for Rupert Murdoch, at right, and his two sons to be ousted [EPA]|
News Corporation boss Rupert Murdoch said there was “simply no excuse” for phone-hacking practices by journalists on his British newspapers, as he faced shareholder ire in Los Angeles at the company’s annual general meeting.
News International, Murdoch’s UK newspaper company, earlier said it would pay $3.2m to the family of a murdered schoolgirl whose phone was hacked as part of a wider scandal that threatens to undermine the media tycoon’s transatlantic empire.
“There is simply no excuse for such unethical behaviour,” Murdoch told the shareholder meeting on Friday. “I am personally determined to right whatever wrong has been committed and to make sure that it doesn’t happen again anywhere in our company.”
Murdoch shut down the 168-year-old News of the World newspaper in July after evidence emerged that its reporters had eavesdropped on the voicemail messages of Milly Dowler, a 13-year-old who disappeared in 2002 and was later found murdered.
The scandal has claimed the resignations of several top Murdoch executives, and several former employees have been arrested.
“The behaviour that the News of the World exhibited towards the Dowlers was abhorrent and I hope this donation underscores my regret for the company’s role in this awful event,” Murdoch said in a statement on Friday.
News Corporation has launched an internal inquiry and set aside $32m to compensate victims of widespread phone hacking, who could number in their hundreds, prompting some to call for Murdoch to step down ahead of Friday’s meeting.
But Murdoch showed defiance in the face of angry shareholders on Friday as they slammed the media company for poor corporate governance and said he should give up the chairman role.
Murdoch was also grilled by Tom Watson, the British member of parliment who has led the pursuit of News International over phone-hacking allegations, who attended the meeting as a representative of the AFL-CIO union movement, which holds a number of News Corporation shares.
Watson said News Corportation could still face investigation by the UK’s Serious Organised Crime Agency over the activities of a number of private investigators employed by News International.
“I promise you absolutely that we will stop at nothing to get to the bottom of this,” Murdoch said in response to Watson’s claims.
Earlier this month International Shareholder Services (ISS), the corporate advisers, recommended that News Corp shareholders vote against the re-election of 13 members of the 15-member board, including Murdoch and sons James and Lachlan.
In addition, it said shareholders should discuss Rupert Murdoch’s exceptionally high base salary of $8.1m, plus a $2.5m bonus in the 2011 fiscal year.
According to Al Jazeera’s correspondent Rob Reynolds, “Voting shareholders are voting on a proposal to disapprove all members of News Corp’s board of directors and to require the chairman of the board to be an independent figure without financial ties to the company or the Murdoch family.”
But given that the Murdoch family controls about 40 per cent of shares, any attempt to curtail Murdoch’s role appeared unlikely to succeed.