Fiona Smith Columnist

Fiona writes on workplace issues, including management, psychology, workplace design, human resources and recruitment. She is a former Work Space editor at The Australian Financial Review and has also covered property, technology, architecture and general news.

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Should you just brazen it out?

Published 10 July 2013 11:26, Updated 11 July 2013 11:12

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Should you just brazen it out?

A Rupert Murdoch spokesman says the mogul welcomes the opportunity to clear up ‘any misconceptions’. Photo: AFP

Sooner or later, as Rupert Murdoch is learning, you are going to get caught with your pants down.

Not literally of course – I’m quoting an old underpants advertisement.

But Murdoch has been caught out making comments to staff about an investigation into corrupt payments to police that contradicted the tone of his evidence to the Commons culture committee in the UK in 2011.

Secret recordings of the News Corporation CEO (obtained by Britain’s Channel 4 and the Exaro news agency) appeared to criticise police and defend his journalists, who were accused of making the payments.

In the recording, Murdoch tells Sun journalists he would do “everything in [his] power to give you total support, even if you’re convicted”.

“We’re talking about payments for news tips from cops – that’s been going on a hundred years,” he said.

This is a turnaround from his former apologies and statement of humility: “This is the most humble day of my life”.

Now, he has been recalled to meet the committee of MPs again and a Murdoch spokesman says the mogul welcomes the opportunity to clear up “any misconceptions”. This time, he is likely to be facing the politicians without the backup of his estranged wife, Wendi Deng, who deftly slapped a pie thrower at the hearing two years ago.

Mindful of the fallout

Given that the committee reported in May 2012 that Murdoch was unfit to lead a major global company, he may decide to brazen it out.

And if there is any truth in the rumours that he is trying to buy into the prestigious Financial Times Group, he would be very mindful of his reputation in Britain.

A recent report that he was in negotiations (with Abu Dhabi’s state media group) to buy the prestigious Financial Times Group for about $US1.2 billion ($1.3 billion) have been denied by the London-based owner, Pearson.

A Pearson spokesman said: “The Financial Times is not for sale and Pearson is not in any talks to sell it”.

Murdoch would be mindful of the fallout from his last meeting with the Commons culture committee, when he withdrew a £7.8 billion ($12.7 billion) bid for full control of British Sky Broadcasting after the phone-hacking scandal at his News Of The World prompted the government and opposition parties to block the deal.

Admirable gumption

Brazening it out is something that moguls can often afford to do – and, in Australia, it can be received with admiration. Who could forget another media titan, Kerry Packer, defending his tax minimising schemes to a government inquiry?

“Of course, I am minimising my tax,” he said. “And if anybody in this country doesn’t minimise their tax, they want their heads read, because as a government, I can tell you you’re not spending it that well that we should be donating extra.”

He was widely applauded for his gumption and forthrightness and for sticking it to the government.

Advertising tzar John Singleton showed his mastery of brazening it out when caught driving his Bentley at 160km/h in 1997. He was let off without a fine or conviction.

Walking up his driveway with a copy of The Daily Telegraph in his hand, he defended the outcome to a journalist from that paper: “I didn’t plead not guilty, I pleaded guilty, guilty, guilty as sin, if you can plead guilty as sin”.

“I just potter along, mate, and have a nice time. I’m a real good driver. I’m not into racing around Oran Park. It’s not my caper,” he said.

He said he did more miles in his Toyota because the Bentley was impractical. Of the Bentley, he said: “It’s a wank. But if you’re gonna have a wank, it’s the best wank you can have”.

Read your audience

Masterful. You could hear revheads cheering around the country. But brazening it out can fall flat if you don’t take in the mood of the audience.

Another advertising tycoon, Charles Saatchi, is making his own attempt, announcing he is divorcing celebrity chef Nigella Lawson, while complaining she didn’t stand up for him when pictures of them having an argument in public were published in the media. The pictures showed her distress as he had his hand around her throat and tweaked her nose in a London restaurant.

Lawson learned her marriage was over after his statement was published in the pages of a tabloid. Given the global alarm about violence against women at the moment, this was not a tactic likely to help rehabilitate his reputation.

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