News Corp. buyback deal looms

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ADELAIDE, Australia -- Rupert Murdoch said Wednesday his News Corp. was close to a deal to buy back Liberty Media's stake in his media empire, and that the company would probably drop its "poison pill" antitakeover measure if it goes ahead.

Murdoch, speaking to shareholders at the company's former base of Adelaide, said negotiations with John Malone's Liberty Media Corp. were still under way, but a deal was "very likely."

Murdoch, the Australian-born chairman and chief executive of the global media company, said it expects to buy back Liberty's stake in a "large" but cashless deal. He said the group will use assets to buy out Liberty's stake.

The two sides have been talking about swapping Liberty's 19% voting stake in News Corp. for one or more assets, possibly News Corp.'s 38% interest in the satellite TV broadcaster DirecTV Group Inc.

Liberty Media Corp. spokesman John Orr did not immediately return a message left after hours. Liberty is a holding company based in the Denver suburb of Englewood, Colo.

At its annual general meeting in New York last month, News Corp. shareholders narrowly approved an extension of the "poison pill" measure, adopted two years ago after Malone surprised Murdoch by suddenly accumulating a big stake in News Corp.'s voting shares.

Malone's stake now potentially rivals the Murdoch family's voting stake of 30%.

Answering a question from the floor about the measure, Murdoch said the company sought the extension of the "poison pill" because of the slow rate of progress in the negations with Malone.

"It's now in place effectively from a month ago for the next thee years," Murdoch said. "I would say that if we settle the Liberty situation it's very likely we'll probably just drop it."

Last month, News Corp. shareholders extended a poison pill that was first put in place two years ago when Malone took Murdoch by surprise and acquired a stake in News Corp.

Poison pill measures are designed to thwart hostile attempts to seize control of a company.

News Corp.'s plan would have resulted in the stake of any outside bidder such as Malone being diluted if they were to make a run at the company without the consent of the board.
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