Are Wealthy News Corp Investors Turning on Rupert Murdoch?
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Many people in the UK will not have heard of Prince al-Waleed bin Talal. But perhaps they should have done. The prince has a lot of money invested in the UK and wields considerable, albeit discreet, influence.
The 55-year-old nephew of Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah is a multibillionaire who, through his investment company, Kingdom Holdings, has taken large chunks of companies as diverse as the Savoy Hotel Group and London's Canary Wharf.
Bin Talal's power stems from his unique position. He is one of the few people who can tap the giant Saudi sovereign funds for money, so his every word is analysed forensically by the markets.
Last week, though, it is likely that the prince, described by Time magazine as "the Arabian Warren Buffett", was devoting more than a passing interest to his almost 7% share in Rupert Murdoch's News Corp, quietly accumulated over several years.
The prince cannot have liked what he saw. What had started out as a very British row over phone hacking by reporters working on Murdoch's News of the World had become infectious and was in danger of going global.
As scores of new victims emerged to allege they had been hacked by the newspaper, MPs voiced fresh concerns at the police handling of the affair and the role played by senior executives at News International, News Corp's UK subsidiary and the ultimate parent company of the News of the World, the Sun, the Times and the Sunday Times.
Meanwhile, back across the Atlantic, it emerged that News Corp was facing another problem. Last week 400 rabbis from all the main branches of Judaism in the US bought a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal, calling on Murdoch to take sanctions against News Corp's Fox News subsidiary. The rabbis were incensed at the way that Fox commentators regularly referred to those with whom they disagreed as "Nazis".
"You diminish the memory and meaning of the Holocaust when you use it to discredit any individual or organization you disagree with. That is what Fox News has done in recent weeks," the ad read.
The placement of the ad was even more poignant and shocking as it was published on Holocaust Remembrance Day. It came partly in response to comments by Murdoch's brash Fox News leader, Roger Ailes, who had compared executives at National Public Radio to Nazis after they sacked a commentator who made ill-advised remarks about being scared of flying with Muslims.
But it also focused on the most controversial figure in the pantheon of Fox News personalities: Glenn Beck. Fox's biggest star repeatedly uses Nazi and Hitler references to describe figures he does not like.
Deborah Lipstadt, professor of Holocaust studies at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia, has been especially vocal in attacking Beck's tactics. "I haven't heard anything like this on television or radio – and I've been following this kind of stuff. I've been in the sewers of antisemitism and Holocaust denial more often than I've wanted," she said.
Those familiar with bin Talal, who has given tens of millions of dollars to charities seeking to bridge gaps between western and Islamic communities, say he will have been dismayed by any whiff of controversy threatening his business interests.
"He is an incredibly intelligent man and deeply honourable; you can only speculate about what he must be thinking now," said an acquaintance.
Coming at a time when News Corp wants regulatory approval to take over British satellite broadcaster BSkyB, both the phone-hacking scandal and the row with the rabbis are damaging not only to the company's reputation but its bottom line.