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Rupert Murdoch Spars With Activist Shareholder During Meeting at Fox Studios

Rupert Murdoch
Pool/Getty Images

"I'd hate to call you a liar," Murdoch says. “Never before have you attempted to shut it down quite like this,” says shareholder.

A couple of forgone conclusions at the News Corp. shareholders meeting were that the board would be re-elected and that there’d be drama. Both occurred, the latter due almost exclusively to Stephen Mayne of the Australian Shareholders’ Association.

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Mayne had been a thorn in the side of News Corp. executives at several past shareholders meetings, though he seemed particularly adept at getting under the skin of CEO and Chairman Rupert Murdoch and others this time around.

Mayne approached the microphone at the meeting at the Fox Studios lot in Los Angeles at least seven times, and earned an admonishment from Murdoch on several of those occasions for trying to monopolize the event.

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“Never before have you attempted to shut it down quite like this,” Mayne told Murdoch during one such exchange. “Your security here is patting me on the back saying, ‘This is your last question.’”

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“This idea of flying from Australia, spending thousands of dollars to come here, to get told to sit down after the most tumultuous year in this company’s history – I just think it’s anti-democratic and embarrassing for a media company that trumpets free speech and accountability,” Mayne told Murdoch.

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“I think we can stand that embarrassment,” Murdoch quipped.

At one point, Mayne insinuated that Murdoch and the rest of the board might still earn his endorsement.

"I'd hate to call you a liar," Murdoch told Mayne. "I know exactly how you're going to vote.”

The fourth time Mayne attempted to speak, Murdoch waved him off and told him "it's not your turn." And the fifth time, Murdoch said: "You can't keep getting up.”

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At various times, Mayne’s gripes concerned News Corp’s. purchase of MySpace, its board makeup, executive compensation and all-around corporate culture.

One of the most dramatic moments came when Mayne challenged the independence of board member Viet Dinh, a South Vietnamese emigrant who teaches law at Georgetown University and was a chief architect of the Patriot Act under President George W. Bush. He’s also godfather to Lachlan Murdoch’s son Aidan.

“How are you independent if you’ve been selected and offered a position of godfather of one of the Murdoch family’s children?” Mayne asked.

“Let me say this very clearly,” Dinh responded. “My moral commitment to Aidan Murdoch in no way affects my fealty, my duty, to the shareholders of the News Corporation.”

Appearing to choke back tears, Dinh continued: “Stephen, I came to this country as a refugee on a boat. America has given me and my family everything that we have. I owe too much, and I care so much, that I would sacrifice my integrity for no one and for nothing. Let’s leave it at that.”

Dinh’s response was one of the few that earned applause.

About the seventh time Mayne stepped up to the microphone, the audience chuckled. “You’ve had enough questions,” Murdoch said. “I’ll declare the meeting finished.”