Rupert Murdoch began the News Corp (NYSE: NWS). shareholder meeting going through details of the terms of the company’s board of director elections (all were re-elected). The meeting is in progress now at the Hudson Theater just off of Times Square. Over the course of the meeting, Murdoch showed traces of annoyance and amusement with some of the shareholders’ wide-ranging questions, as did much of the audience. During his presentation, he sought to boast of News Corp.’s success in cable, broadcast and even newspapers — mostly outside the U.S. except for WSJ — as a bulwark against an economic storm that looks to be increasingly grim and protracted. A webcast of the meeting is available here.
Afterward, I tried to speak with Murdoch, but News Corp. press handlers swooped in cut Murdoch off. As he was speaking to a group of shareholders, Murdoch was asked his thoughts on the newspaper industry. Can it be saved? No, he said, only the ones that can find a way to make digital profitable will survive. Would he consider buying any other newspapers. He smiled and shook his head no. After being whisked away, News Corp. General Counsel Lon Jacobs agreed to talk with me. I asked him whether News Corp. would consider buying Yahoo (NSDQ: YHOO), which was a possibility that had been floated back in February. “There’s just too much going on right now in the economy for it to make sense for us to revisit a Yahoo bid,” Jacobs said. “But in the future, when conditions change, it might be worth looking at again.” More details from the meeting itself after the jump.
– News Corp. bailout? — The first question came from Evelyn Y. Davis, a widely known investor gadfly who claims to own shares in 80 other companies. She complained about the $700 billion bailout, but asked why News Corp. wasn’t asking for one. “What about the media? If the bailout is good enough for the banks, why not the news company?” Murdoch: “I don’t think you can expect any media company, least of all, us, to take a handout from the government.” After 10 minutes, Murdoch gently cut her off, saying, “Thank you for your interesting opinions. Now, can we please stick to the relevant issues at hand?”
– No talks with Sumner: Davis returned to the microphone to ask if News Corp. was interested in buying any of the assets under Sumner Redstone’s National Amusements. Murdoch: “They only have a few that are non-competitive, and we would consider taking a look if anything was for sale, but we are not aware of any and we are not engaged in any talks.” A little later, when Davis tried to ask another question, Murdoch tried to dissuade her as the audience grew restless. He relented after Davis expressed her affection for him, saying, “What do you expect, my darling, I only see you once a year. I’m glad [Murdoch's wife] Wendi isn’t here, she would be jealous.”
– No debt: Asked about the Murdoch family’s personal debt and how it would affect News Corp., Murdoch sharply responded, “There is no debt. Again, there is no debt… happily.” That was followed by anther speech from Davis, which was greeted with equal amounts of exasperation and amusement by Murdoch and the board members seated on the stage.
– Building a strong balance sheet: This has been the sixth consecutive year of profit growth, Murdoch said. But we are in the midst of a severe credit crisis that is exacerbating the weak global economy. That said, we are as well-positioned as we can be to manage what looks like a long economic downturn. Still, he cautioned that 2009 might not look as good for News Corp. as past years. “Fiscal 2009 will be a year of many