LOS ANGELES (AP) - British lawmaker Tom Watson grilled News Corp. chief Rupert Murdoch about covert surveillance techniques by company employees as News Corp. held its first shareholders meeting following a phone-hacking scandal.
More than 100 people demonstrated Friday outside the annual meeting on the lot of News Corp.’s Fox Studios.
Murdoch said he wasn’t aware, and board director Viet Dinh said the company would look into the allegation.
Watson evoked private investigator Glenn Mulcaire, who was jailed in 2007 for eavesdropping on the phones of royal staff, in warning of troubles ahead for the company.
Watson got up twice and spoke for a few minutes during the 90-minute meeting.
Murdoch faced shareholders with small stakes in his company for the first time since the scandal broke in July. Watson, representing shares owned by the labor group AFL-CIO, used the event to reveal new details of what he claims are covert surveillance techniques by News Corp. employees. Watson, a Labour Party member of Parliament, has spearheaded a 2 1/2-year probe into phone hacking and alleged police bribery scandal at the company’s British newspaper unit.
Outside Fox Studios, some demonstrators carried anti-Murdoch signs, including one that stated “Fire the Murdoch Mafia.” Another read, “Rich media equals poor democracy.” Some of the demonstrators were from an organization that has been staging rallies recently to demand good jobs.
The media conglomerate has been rocked by evidence that its now-shuttered British tabloid, News of the World, hired a private investigator who tapped into the cellphone voicemail of a 13-year-old who disappeared in 2002 and was later found murdered. On Friday, News Corp. said it has agreed to pay 2 million pounds ($3.2 million) to the family of that girl.
Murdoch and his son James, who is in line to succeed him, were grilled by Watson and other lawmakers in a parliamentary committee hearing in late July. The elder Murdoch said he was ashamed at what happened but declined to take personal blame. He said he was the best person “to clean this up.”
Murdoch controls News Corp. through his family trust’s 40 percent stake of voting shares. A key backer is Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, who controls 7 percent. The voting stock represents less than a third of the company’s total $44.4 billion market value.
That dual-class share system has come under renewed fire. Critics say the company’s board is dysfunctional and management has poor oversight of the company.
Several shareholders took issue with a chart Murdoch put up showing the stock’s upbeat performance compared with most other media peers since the beginning of the year and since the beginning of July. They said its performance over 10 years or more lagged its peers. Murdoch said the chart was to address criticism that the company had been hurt by the hacking scandal.