New York -- News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch appeared to thumb his nose at reports that the media giant was close to a deal to buy back the 19% voting stake in the company from Liberty Media, adding that with its new “poison pill” in hand, it is in no hurry to do a Liberty deal.
Earlier this month, Liberty CEO Greg Maffei said at an industry conference that a News Corp. deal was close and that Liberty was working toward a deal that would exchange its 19% voting stake (valued at about $10 billion) and cash for News Corp.’s 34% controlling interest in direct-broadcast satellite giant DirecTV Group.
But Murdoch, speaking at News Corp.’s annual shareholders meeting here Friday, seemed to downplay the urgency of a deal.
“If you can believe Liberty, we’re very close to closing a deal,” Murdoch told reporters after the annual meeting. “Time will tell. We’re not in any rush and hurry at all. We just got the poison pill for three more years. We’re quite relaxed.”
Murdoch also appeared to throw a dig at Liberty and its chairman, John Malone, which acquired the stake in December 2004. Liberty’s 19% voting stake is second only to Murdoch’s 30% voting interest.
But according to reports at the time, Murdoch was apparently upset that Malone -- a longtime friend -- had not informed the News Corp. chairman of the transaction until the day it closed.
“If somebody wants to buy an asset from us or buy the whole company, we expect them to come in the front door and make an offer and negotiate with the board and do it properly,” Murdoch said. “This was to stop a back-door cheap entrance.”
Liberty’s 2004 move prompted News Corp. to initiate a shareholder’s-rights plan -- also called a poison pill -- that would make it prohibitively expensive for an individual person or company to amass more than a 15% voting stake in News Corp.
That first poison pill was renewed last year, but News Corp. agreed to put it to a vote after a group of shareholders sued.
The poison pill was approved at the Friday annual meeting, with more than 57% of the eligible votes cast supporting the plan. Liberty voted against the poison pill.