Malone move casts shadow over Murdoch succession

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Sep 8, 2003
Las Vegas, Nevada
Questions were raised today about the future of News Corp after Rupert Murdoch's sometime-ally and sometime-foe John Malone became the second largest voting shareholder in the company through a shock overnight deal.

Mr Malone, a notoriously shrewd dealmaker who made his money in cable TV and owns QVC shopping channel and half of the Discovery network, increased his stake to 9%, a major change for News Corp as Mr Murdoch has never before had a shareholder with almost one third as many votes as him.

The deal immediately raised questions about Mr Malone's plans - some analysts have speculated as to whether he is planning a takeover bid and whether the move could scupper Mr Murdoch's succession plans involving his sons James and Lachlan.

Others believe it could be a sign of a new and formidable alliance between the two moguls.

Mr Malone's move cements his key position at News Corp, as the man who can confirm or deny Mr Murdoch's plan to pass control of the media group to his family.

"Privately, the Murdochs will be meeting behind closed doors and asking 'what's going on here?'" one Australian analyst told the Australian Financial Review, which follows News Corp closely.

According to reports, Mr Murdoch only learned of Mr Malone's new holdings on Tuesday. "It is shocking that the transaction would take place without a phone call from Malone to Murdoch," a US media executive told the New York Times.

In terms of pure equity, Mr Malone's company, Liberty Media, now holds 17% of News Corp, exceeding the Murdoch family's 14%, and if it chose to swap more of its stock for voting shares it could get to a point where it could outvote the Murdochs.

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