Fit and proper? Why James Murdoch must go

With the BSkyB AGM approaching, Matthew Butcher of Fair Pensions tells us why it matters to all of us that James Murdoch is removed from the board.


Matthew Butcher is the media and communications officer for FairPensions

Tomorrow, a small army of mostly grey-haired serial AGM attendees will come together for one of the last times this year. These small shareholders – who regularly enjoy the cakes and coffee at plush conference centres decked out in corporate colours – are dwarfed by the power of institutional investors. It is these big investors like insurance companies and pension funds that can make a difference to how companies act, and who should make company directors appropriately nervous.

At the BSkyB AGM, one of the company directors to take to the stage at the front of the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre will be James Murdoch. Shareholders, both big and small, should be trying to ensure Halloween isn’t the only frightening thing in Murdoch Jr’s week.

Murdoch is seeking re-election to a board on which he has served for almost a decade. He has served as the company’s CEO and chairman and still sits on the top table as a non-executive director. This non-executive role would see Murdoch keeping an eye on management.

It is hard to believe he is the best man for the job.

Earlier this year the usually conservative communications industry regulator, Ofcom, had strong words to say about James Murdoch’s role in the covering up of phone hacking at the News of the World.

The regulator questioned Murdoch’s “competence” as chairman of News International and BSkyB, noting:

“We consider James Murdoch’s conduct, including his failure to initiate action on his own account on a number of occasions, to be both difficult to comprehend and ill-judged.”

This dressing down by Ofcom came after the House of Commons culture, media and sport select committee concluded Murdoch showed “wilful ignorance” of the extent of phone hacking during 2009 and 2010.

But why does any of this matter? And why are we trying to get Murdoch out?

Murdoch’s behaviour matters to people like the families of Millie Dowler and the soldiers whose phones were hacked after they died.

It matters to the employees of the companies under his watch, many of whom lost their jobs through no fault of their own.

It matters to shareholders, because his inability to provide good oversight presents them with a risk to their investments.

It matters because some of the company’s biggest shareholders are pension funds and insurance companies.

Having someone like James Murdoch at the top of BSkyB matters to all of us.

Fair Pensions has been urging shareholders to use their votes at BSkyB’s AGM to reject the re-election of James Murdoch.

Unfortunately, BSkyB is a company where ordinary shareholders have less power than usual. This is because News Corporation, a company owned by Rupert Murdoch and where his son James has a senior managerial role, owns a whopping 39% stake in BSkyB.

You won’t be surprised to hear they’ll be voting in support of James Murdoch. If non-News Corp shareholders were to oust James Murdoch 83% of them would have to vote against his re-election.

It is with this unusual shareholder situation in mind we thought we’d take alternative action. Tomorrow we will be joining the tea and cake brigade at the BSkyB AGM, and we’ll be taking the call for Murdoch’s removal straight to the board. Even if shareholders have been placated, and the media furore has died down, we want Murdoch to know we’re still not happy.

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