Murdoch weathers downturn

News Corp. CEO: 'company well positioned'

NEW YORK -- News Corp. chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch said that his family doesn't face the risk of having to sell company shares as Viacom and CBS chairman Sumner Redstone recently had to do.

"We have no debt at all," he said Friday when asked about the issue at the conglomerate's annual shareholder meeting.

Murdoch also signaled an interest in expanding News Corp.'s subscription-based businesses amid a tough economy and rejected a suggestion that media companies should hit up the U.S. Treasury for their own bailout package given that banks received bailouts.

"I don't think you'll expect any media companies to accept a handout from the government," Murdoch replied to a shareholder question. He emphasized that News Corp. has little exposure to the recent failure of banks and the current financial crisis given that it works with many different banks.

Murdoch on Friday also again warned about the significant challenges of global economic weakness, though he reiterated that he feels News Corp. is better positioned than its peers to weather the storm.

"We're as well-positioned as we can be for what may well turn out to become a prolonged (downturn)," he said, admitting that the recent economic and financial markets turmoil has "weakened the advertising markets and beaten down our share price."

Friday's meeting ratified a change to the company's bylaws that replaced its traditionally staggered board -- which used to elect three groups of directors for three years each -- in favor of annual re-elections of board members.

Among News Corp. board members and brass present Friday were president and COO Peter Chernin, Murdoch sons James -- chairman and CEO of News Corp., Europe and Asia, who showed up to his first gathering of the conglomerate -- and Lachlan as well as CFO David Devoe.

In an entertaining moment at the start of the meeting, chairman Murdoch read off a list of attending board members, saying "Lachlan Murdoch seems to be late."

A second later, his son's voice rang out from the back of the meeting: "I'm here! I'm in the back."

Murdoch signaled an interest in further expanding his firm's subscription and digital media businesses as well as overseas operations, especially in emerging markets.

He said as far as acquisitions go, News Corp. has about $5 billion in its cash war chest, leaving the company to potentially take advantage of opportunities in a down market at a time when many peers might be too strained financially.

Asked about a potential deal with Redstone for parts of National Amusements, Murdoch said there have been no talks and that he is not aware of any assets that are for sale. But some Redstone media properties would be worth a look if available at a reasonable price, he added.