'WSJ' Says Murdoch and Bancrofts Will Meet Again Soon

By: Emerging from his key meeting with the Bancroft family, which controls the property he wants -- Dow Jones -- Rupert Murdoch, the News Corp. chief, called it "constructive." Later, a spokesman for the family used the same word in stating: "The parties had a constructive dialogue and have gone back to consider our positions."

Among the differences: Which plan to guarantee some sort of editorial independence to pursue.

The Wall Street Journal reports this morning: "There isn't a date set for another meeting, but the two sides are expected to reconvene shortly, people close to the family said."

But in separate article, the Journal raises new questions aoubt Murdoch's handling of news at his papers. It concludes: "A detailed examination of Mr. Murdoch's half-century career as a journalist and businessman shows that his newspapers and other media outlets have made coverage decisions that advanced the interests of his sprawling media conglomerate, News Corp. In the process, Mr. Murdoch has blurred a line that exists at many other U.S. media companies between business and news sides -- a line intended to keep the business and political interests of owners from influencing the presentation of news."

According to The New York Times, meanwhile, the Bancroft family told Murdoch "it would sell him the company only if its jewel, The Wall Street Journal, could be shielded from editorial interference from him.

"Mr. Murdoch made clear," the Times reveals today, "that he would not accept the terms of the Bancroft family?s proposal, which would give a board of independent overseers the power to hire and fire top editors, according to people who were present or were briefed by participants, but, they said, Mr. Murdoch floated an alternate arrangement in the meeting, which lasted almost five hours. 'Both sides laid out the way they thought it should work, and neither side agreed with the other, but they?re eager to keep talking,' said someone who was briefed on the meeting but who was unauthorized to speak on behalf of the participants. 'It was all very pleasant on both sides, but there?s still plenty of distance between the two.'"

An excerpt from the Journal's article on yesterday's meeting follows. The entire piece is found at www.wsjonline.com

The two sides exchanged proposals on structures to maintain journalistic integrity, but price wasn't discussed, said a person close to the family. Chief among the family's concerns is how the independent board, proposed by Mr. Murdoch, would be structured. Under one scenario that has been discussed by family members, the editorial ranks of the company would report up through a separate structure outside News Corp., said another person close to the family. The Bancrofts, who control 64% of the voting rights of Dow Jones, want to ensure that any structure would be strong enough to stand up through the next generation of News Corp.'s management, according to people close to the family.

Indeed, the family was keenly focused on that issue in the meeting, according to people familiar with it. Leading the questioning was family attorney Martin Lipton and family member and Dow Jones director Christopher Bancroft, these people said.

Mr. Murdoch's son James Murdoch also participated in the discussions, focusing on News Corp.'s China role, these people said. James Murdoch is CEO of News Corp. affiliate British Sky Broadcasting.

After initially rebuffing Mr. Murdoch's offer of $60 a share, or about $5 billion, the Bancrofts said Thursday that they would talk to News Corp. and consider other suitors.

The Bancrofts had prepared a presentation about their philosophy of independence and the integrity of Dow Jones and the Journal, according to people familiar with the matter. The family also raised questions about the Times of London and the Sunday Times, which Mr. Murdoch acquired in 1981. For that transaction, Mr. Murdoch agreed to give the papers editorial independence through an independent board, but critics have complained that the effort didn't stop Mr. Murdoch from meddling with the papers and firing editors he didn't like.

Mr. Murdoch has come to recognize he will have to go beyond protections offered to the Times of London, people close to him said. One scenario News Corp. is willing to explore is the one historically used by Reuters Group PLC, which gave Reuters Trustees veto power over any takeover.


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