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Murdoch calls Dow Jones meeting 'constructive'

Rupert Murdoch says that he has a "constructive" meeting with the Bancrofts to reassure the family that his $5 billion offer for the company will not undermine its flagship newspaper, The Wall Street Journal.

business Updated: Jun 05, 2007 15:02 IST

Rupert Murdoch said on Monday that he had a "constructive" meeting with the Bancrofts to reassure the family that controls Dow Jones & Co Inc that his $5 billion offer for the company will not undermine its flagship newspaper, The Wall Street Journal.

Murdoch and his son James, met key members of the Bancroft family, which in total holds 64 per cent of the voting power in Dow Jones, for the first time in New York.

"We had a very long and constructive meeting," Murdoch told reporters as he left the meeting at the offices of the Bancroft family advisers.

Crews of reporters drenched from the rain flanked both entrances to the CBS Corporation's imposing "Black Rock" building, catching only a moment with the 76-year-old year old media mogul as he left.

One focus of the five hours of discussions was safeguards to preserve editorial independence at the Journal, which is a key concern for the Bancrofts, as well as editors and reporters at Dow Jones.

The union representing over 2,000 Dow Jones workers, the Independent Association of Publishers' Employees, said on Monday it had retained advisers to seek alternative bids that could better protect the publication's "unquestioned journalistic integrity."

Union representative Steven Yount told Reuters the process was started last Friday with a list of about half a dozen individuals with "the money and the integrity." He did not identify target buyers, who have yet to respond.

The Murdoch meeting with the Bancroft clan included Christopher Bancroft, Leslie Hill and Elizabeth Steele, who are Dow Jones board members.

According to an earlier report in the Journal, the family was to be accompanied by Dow Jones Chairman Peter McPherson, Bancroft trustee Michael Elefante and attorney Martin Lipton.

The tone of the meeting was expected to resemble more of a social gathering than a session for negotiations or deal- making, as Murdoch, chairman and chief executive of media conglomerate News Corporation, hoped to create a rapport with Bancroft family members, the newspaper said.

News Corp is willing to explore a policy similar to one Reuters Group Plc employs, giving a board of trustees the power to block any deal and prevent any one shareholder from owning more than a 15 percent stake without the trustees' consent, the Journal reported, citing News Corp. sources.

The Reuters arrangement will continue to be in effect after Canada's Thomson Corp completes a planned $17.2 billion acquisition of the company. Reuters competes with the Dow Jones Newswires service in providing financial news.

Monday's meeting comes after the Bancrofts, a majority of whom initially objected to the deal, said last week they were willing to discuss conditions for selling the Journal while protecting its editorial independence.

In an interview with the Journal on Friday, Murdoch said he was willing to accede to demands for tighter controls to ensure editorial independence, up to a point.

"I can't put down $5 billion of my shareholders' money and not be able to run the business," Murdoch told the Journal.

Murdoch, who pitched a proposal to establish an independent editorial board, said the board should comprise people with no business connections to himself or the Bancrofts.

But similar plans at News Corp.-owned newspaper The Times of London have been criticized by journalists, journalism experts and former employees for being ineffective.

Notably, former Times editor Harold Evans was ousted after testing the boundaries of editorial independence at the paper subsequent to Murdoch's purchase in the early 1980s, according to his book "Good Times, Bad Times."

The meeting between Murdoch and the Bancroft family members will be held at the offices of family legal advisor Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, according to the Journal report.

The IAPE Dow Jones workers union said it had retained the services of the Ownership Associates of Cambridge, Mass., and is working with the Communications Workers of America and the Newspaper Guild to explore alternative bids.

Dow Jones shares were down 1.3 percent at $60.39 in afternoon trading on the New York Stock Exchange. Murdoch is offering $60 a share for the company. News Corp shares are close to flat at $22.56.

First Published: Jun 05, 2007 14:22 IST