The BBC is usually regarded as an even-handed observer of the world’s events. But one of its more opinion-led programs, Newsnight, last night laid down some powerful messages about which way this whole mess could end up for News Corp (NSDQ: NWS). It started from the opening seconds of the program. As host Kirsty Wark described how concerns over dodgy and illegal journalistic practices in the UK were now spreading to questions of executive culpability, a huge News Corp logo, refashioned into a medieval jail (gaol?) grate, slammed down in front of CEO Rupert Murdoch and his deputy COO, son James. (Yes, the likeness of that logo to a jail grate is uncanny.)
If you could boil them down, perhaps the three most crucial points right now for News Corp as a business are consumer sentiment, government involvement and shareholder engagement with the issues.
Last night’s program delivered some more detail on how the third is progressing.
The big takeaway is that they are still on side, but appear to be prepared to teeter.
The program got an exclusive interview with Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal Alsaud, a Saudi Prince known as the “Arab Warren Buffet” (yes) who owns seven percent of News Corp., the second-largest stake after Rupert himself, who owns 12 percent. As Newsnight points out, he’s also super-duper rich versus Murdoch’s super rich status (net worth of $12 billion versus $7 billion).
“We hope as this thing unfolds the truth will come out,” he said. “It’s very important for me and my company to get this in order. Ethics to me are very important.”
For now it looks like he will wait until the commission that has been appointed by the Prime Minister will produce some results, before making any decisions. “Unfortunately, these tactics used by NOTW were done by other newspapers also [not necessarily just those of News International],” he said, adding that the commission’s conclusions will play a big role in determining how he will view events. “The facts are going to come out soon and see how high up this thing went.”
However, he also seems to be concerned that those very politicians could end up spinning events as a result of their own bias:
“I hope this matter doesn’t get over-politicized,” he says referring to the many years of politicians bending over backwards to ensure the endorsement of Murdoch’s popular news papers, and the compromises that were made as a result; and those who fell on the wrong side of News International papers’ reporting. “Clearly some politicians would like to set the record straight.”
Ultimately, he is still with them. “The Murdochs are my friends and allies, and I have told them that they have to cooperate fully,” he said. “They know my high ethics and in my dealings with them there has been nothing but high ethics for the last 20 years.”
The alternative? That was seen when Newsnight asked him about Rebekah Brooks. Should she stay? “If she was involved in this, of course she has to go,” he answered. “But from my dealings with them, I think it’s almost impossible for James or Rupert to have known what was going on at The News of the World level.”
Another U.S.-based investor also weighed in:
“It’s very likely there will be at some point, and I’m not saying in the near term, an entire new management at News Corp, ” says Porter Bibb, a managing partner for Mediatech Capital Partners, one of News Corp’s investors. “It is a fine company, and has great assets, and terrific future. But the Murdoch influence, despite its de facto control and ownership, is going to be diminished.”