Protesters calling for the resignation of BSkyB chairman James Murdoch gathered outside the company’s annual general meeting today.
Two MPs also arrived at the meeting at the QEII Conference Centre in central London, saying they would ask awkward questions as pressure continues to mount on Mr Murdoch over his links to the inquiry into phone hacking at News Corporation.
Top investors such as Kames Capital, which owns 1.7%, and Legal & General, which owns 2.9%, are reportedly planning to vote against the re-election of the son of media tycoon Rupert Murdoch.
Lobby group Pensions & Investment Research Consultants (Pirc) has urged shareholders to oppose Mr Murdoch’s return on the grounds that he is not independent enough and over concerns that he may damage the company’s public image by association.
Campaign organisation Avaaz staged a protest with placards, James Murdoch masks and calls of “Murdoch out”.
Campaigns director Sam Barratt said: “We expect shareholders to start to show their discontent at James Murdoch.
“If more muck starts to emerge, there’s every chance of an extraordinary general meeting being held at some point, and James Murdoch losing his role.”
Rhondda Labour MP Chris Bryant, who said he was attending as a proxy voter, said: “I’m going to ask – it says in the Articles of Association the chairman should look to enhance the company’s image – ’How’s it going, James?”’
And Tom Watson, Labour MP for West Bromwich East, said: “I’m going to ask about reputational harm to the company if they re-elect him, and also commercial risks for its products.
“He will be re-elected, but it will interesting to see if the figure voting against him rises from last year, when it was around 1.5%.”
In a statement to shareholders, Pirc said: “Mr Murdoch’s involvement in the phone hacking inquiry increases the risk that the company’s public standing and image overall will be damaged.”
But Mr Murdoch, who currently serves as deputy chief operating officer at News Corp, BSkyB’s controlling shareholder, is expected to survive as he receives the backing of 39% shareholder News Corp and other investors such as Capital Research Global Investors.
Mr Murdoch, who earlier this month faced tough questioning from MPs over reporting practices at the News of the World, has been BSkyB chairman for just under four years and recently resigned as director of News Group Newspapers, publisher of The Sun and The Times.
He told MPs he “disputed vigorously” claims from former editor Colin Myler and ex-legal manager Tom Crone that they informed him of the significance of an email indicating that phone hacking was widespread.
BSkyB and a number of shareholders have stood by Mr Murdoch and the company wrote to investors to explain why they were backing him.
Nick Ferguson, BSkyB’s deputy chairman, said in the letter to investors that Mr Murdoch had “done a first-class job” in executing the key roles of a chairman, including facilitating a constructive relationship with the senior management team.
Considering the negative reputational effect on the company as a result of issues surrounding the News of the World, Mr Ferguson said: “We have seen no effect on sales, customers or suppliers over the last five months.”
The accusations first came to light over the summer when it emerged that the phone of murdered teenager Milly Dowler was hacked by a private investigator employed by the News of the World – eventually leading to News Corp shutting the paper down.