October 29, 2020

Tale of ‘White Widow’ Fills British Press

There is no evidence so far, the police and security forces say, that Samantha Lewthwaite, the widow of one of the four suicide bombers who devastated London in July 2005, was involved in the Kenya attack, let alone was its “mastermind,” as the British papers are wont to suggest.

But it is also true that some of those who survived the massacre at Nairobi’s Westgate shopping complex said they thought they heard a woman speaking English among the attackers belonging to the militant Shabab Islamist group, most of whom are Somali.

Even the president of Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta, speaking on television Tuesday night after the four-day standoff at the mall had ended, mentioned talk of a white British woman. “Intelligence reports had suggested that a British woman and two or three American citizens may have been involved in the attack,” said Mr. Kenyatta, adding, “We cannot confirm the details at present, but forensic experts are working to ascertain the nationalities of the terrorists.”

But his interior minister, Joseph Ole Lenku, and spokesmen for the Shabab, who have claimed responsibility for the massacre, said no women were involved in the operation.

Speculation rose higher on Thursday when Interpol issued a “red notice” for Ms. Lewthwaite’s arrest, requiring its 190 member countries to detain her pending extradition.

The Times of London said in a headline, “Worldwide Terror Hunt for the ‘White Widow,’ ” while The Sun, the tabloid owned by Rupert Murdoch, showed a photograph of her as a schoolgirl and said: “The angel-faced British girl who last night became … World’s Most Wanted.”

Unfortunately for the story line, however, the red notice was issued in response to a Kenyan request concerning events nearly two years ago, not the Nairobi attack. The notice said she was wanted by Kenya “on charges of being in possession of explosives and conspiracy to commit a felony dating back to December 2011” as part of a suspected plot to bomb cities along the Kenyan coast at Christmas.

Michael O’Connell, director of operational support for Interpol, based in Lyon, France, said that the issuing of the red notice was “a coincidence” resulting from an open investigation. “We’re at the stage where the details of this case and this individual have been able to be released publicly,” he told BBC World Service radio. “There are other people with red notices.”

But the red notice did indicate a heightened level of alert. Ms. Lewthwaite had previously been sought only by South Africa on suspicion of obtaining a fraudulent passport under the name Natalie Faye Webb.

Ms. Lewthwaite has now achieved “a semimythical status,” said Raffaello Pantucci, a terrorism expert at the Royal United Services Institute, a British research organization specializing in defense and security. But he, too, emphasized that there was little concrete evidence linking her to the Nairobi attack.

About 200 Britons are fighting alongside Islamist rebels in Syria and 100 in Somalia, Mr. Pantucci said. “Even if the numbers are small, it only takes one person to blow things up,” he said. “Foreign fighters are the umbilical cord that links the battleground to the home country.”

Valentina Soria, a counterterrorism expert at IHS Jane’s, a defense consultancy, said the Shabab had been trying to recruit foreigners and Somalis in the United States and Europe for three years “to offset the loss of domestic support.”

Ms. Soria pointed to Michael Adebolajo, 28, who on Friday pleaded not guilty to the gruesome murder of Lee Rigby, an off-duty soldier, in London last May, as one Briton who tried to travel to Somalia to fight alongside the Shabab.

Ms. Lewthwaite, a youthful convert to Islam, is the widow of Germaine Lindsay, who blew himself up on a London Underground train on July 7, 2005, killing 26 people as part of a larger attack that killed 52 and wounded hundreds.

The daughter of a former British soldier, Ms. Lewthwaite was born in Northern Ireland and grew up in the market town of Aylesbury, northwest of London. Raj Khan, a local councilor who knew the family, described her as “an average, British, young, ordinary girl” who suffered, he said, from a lack of confidence. “That’s why I find it absolutely amazing that she is supposed to be the head of an international criminal terrorist organization,” he said.

She met Mr. Lindsay, who was born in Jamaica, on an Internet chat forum when she was 17, two years after she converted to Islam. She studied religion and politics at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. The couple married in 2002 and moved back to Aylesbury in 2003.

After the 2005 attacks, she said, “I totally condemn and am horrified by the atrocities which occurred in London,” and praised Mr. Lindsay as “a good and loving husband and a brilliant father who showed absolutely no sign of doing this atrocious crime.” She said her husband had fallen under the influence of radical imams, adding, “How these people could have turned him and poisoned his mind is dreadful.”

She was pregnant with their second child at the time. She has three children, ages 7 to 12, the youngest with her second husband, a Kenyan.

Little was heard about her until March 2012, when her name surfaced in a Kenyan investigation into suspected plans to bomb coastal cities during the Christmas holidays. The authorities said they suspected she had rented houses in Mombasa to assemble a bomb and was working with Musa Hussein Abdi, who was shot and killed in Somalia in June 2011. In December 2011 or January 2012, the police found a woman they believed to be Ms. Lewthwaite in his house, but let her go after she showed them a South African passport, now believed to be fake. She is thought to have then fled to Somalia.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/28/world/africa/tale-of-white-widow-fills-british-press.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Al Jazeera America Promises a More Sober Look at the News

It sounds like something a journalism professor would imagine. In actuality, it is Al Jazeera America, the culmination of a long-held dream among the leaders of Qatar, the Middle Eastern emirate that already reaches most of the rest of the world with its Arabic- and English-language news channels. The new channel, created specifically for consumers in the United States, will join cable and satellite lineups on Tuesday afternoon.

Al Jazeera America is the most ambitious American television news venture since Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes started the Fox News Channel in 1996. It faces some of the same obstacles that Fox eventually glided over — including blanket skepticism about whether distributors, advertisers and viewers will give it a chance. But that is where the parallels to other channels end, because Al Jazeera America is going against the grain of seemingly every trend in television news.

“Viewers will see a news channel unlike the others, as our programming proves Al Jazeera America will air fact-based, unbiased and in-depth news,” said Ehab Al Shihabi, the channel’s acting chief executive, on a news conference call last week. He was explicit about what will be different, saying, “There will be less opinion, less yelling and fewer celebrity sightings.”

Mr. Al Shihabi and other Al Jazeera representatives say proprietary research supports their assertions that American viewers want a PBS-like news channel 24 hours a day. Originally the new channel was going to  have an international bent; now its overseers emphasize how much American news it will cover and how many domestic bureaus it will have, which some see as an effort to appease skeptics.

Would-be competitors at big broadcast news divisions like NBC and established cable news channels like CNN have mostly shrugged at the start-up. A senior television news executive predicted that Al Jazeera America would, at the outset, receive even lower ratings than the channel it is replacing, Current TV.

Last month the lame-duck Current had about 24,000 viewers in prime time, according to Nielsen data; Fox News had 1.3 million.

Al Jazeera acquired Current TV for $500 million in January to start an American channel, after trying unsuccessfully for years to win cable and satellite carriage for its English-language international news channel.

But with carriage comes concessions. Since distributors discourage their partners from giving programming away on the Internet, Al Jazeera will have to block American users from the live streams of its programming that tend to be popular in periods of tumult overseas.

Al Jazeera will start in about 48 million of the country’s roughly 100 million homes that subscribe to television.

It is in talks with Time Warner Cable, which publicly dropped Current TV upon Al Jazeera’s acquisition. Meanwhile, one of Al Jazeera’s overseas rivals, the British Broadcasting Corporation, continues to press for wider carriage of BBC World News in America.

What is unique about Al Jazeera — its seemingly limitless financing from an oil- and gas-rich government — may be its biggest advantage and its most-remarked-upon weakness.

With a staff of 900, including 400 newsroom employees, it is one of the most significant investments in television journalism in modern times.

Paul Eedle, an Al Jazeera English executive who is helping to start the channel, would not comment on the total budget, but said hundreds of millions of dollars were being spent. “We’re here because we think our journalistic mission has something to offer America,” he said.

Many contend Qatar’s geopolitical aims are a motivator, too. The Al Jazeera name still arouses deep suspicion in some Americans, mostly because of the period immediately after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, when Al Jazeera broadcast messages from Osama bin Laden and was demonized by Bush administration officials as anti-American.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/19/business/media/al-jazeera-america-promises-a-more-sober-look-at-the-news.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

An Afghan Media Mogul, Pushing Boundaries

Around him, 4,000 Afghan fans were enjoying a break from the typical grind and violence of the nation’s daily life to swing flags and roar for their newly created teams. And in the rickety stands behind him, a clutch of well-groomed Afghan V.I.P.’s in traditional shalwar kameez clapped politely at Mr. Mohseni’s unlikely creation, a televised soccer final in a poor country still at war and in a location — a sports stadium — that only a decade and a half ago could as likely have been the bloody scene of a Taliban public execution as a soccer championship.

“Isn’t it fun?” said Mr. Mohseni, 47, a smooth, always-on-the-go networker with curly black hair and stylish brown-rimmed glasses.

He gesticulated with his BlackBerry as, 100 yards away, his TV cameras swiveled to follow the winning team parading before the crowd.

“It is normal,” he added.

Mr. Mohseni has brought a modicum of normalcy to Afghanistan. His new commercial soccer league is part of a broader Afghan media empire — the holding company is called the Moby Group — that he and his family have built after their return to Kabul from Australia in 2002. As a private company, Moby does not state its earnings publicly, but people familiar with its performance say it is likely to post revenue of more than $60 million in its current fiscal year.

In a country where the Taliban once banned television, where a television set costs about one-fourth of an average Afghan’s annual income and where the electricity supply is uneven, Mr. Mohseni has built a business in the bubble of security and prosperity afforded by the international presence in the country. He has done this with the start-up help of United States government money and with a cash injection last year from News Corporation, led by his friend Rupert Murdoch, with whom he shares an Australian background, a love of gossip and an obvious industriousness.

Now, like his native country, Mr. Mohseni stands on the cusp of the next phase of development. In the coming year, Afghanistan is facing both the withdrawal of most international troops and a tense political transition after presidential elections. Outside the stadium, beyond the police guards poised on nearby towers, the reality is that Afghanistan remains a poor, turbulent, chaotic nation that, some fear, may plunge into something even worse as its army confronts the Taliban alone without international support, as outside aid money dwindles and as warlords jostle for supremacy.

The coming years could leave Mr. Mohseni and his family empire perilously vulnerable to the Taliban and other political groups with whom he has clashed over the past decade. Moby employees have already endured death threats and detentions because of their breaking of conservative taboos like showing women on television and their criticisms of the government and insurgent groups.

Any return of the Taliban to power or the rise of a more conservative government — or even just an unpredictable breakdown in security — could make life painfully uncomfortable for those, like Mr. Mohseni, who are associated with pro-Western development. Their accomplishments, their wealth, even their lives could be at risk.

As the involvement of the United States winds down, the big question is what the American legacy will be. A flourishing independent media industry is an important pillar of the American strategy for rebuilding the country, and Moby has become an important part of that media landscape. But after creating three of the most-watched television channels in the country, two radio networks, a production company, an advertising agency, a music label, a mobile phone broadcast service and a magazine, Mr. Mohseni is focused on expanding beyond Afghanistan.

His company employs about 1,000 people, most of them in Kabul, but it will soon have about 20 offices in six countries. Its headquarters is in Dubai, and its strategy is to continue to grow in Afghanistan but to diversify into other countries in the region — like Iran, Iraq and Libya. He explains the new direction as a natural progression: to set up operations in large, underserved and often under-stress countries with the potential to grow.

“The business model now is a diversified media group that is active around the region,” he said in a recent phone conversation. “The strategy is to go into high-risk countries with growth of 20 to 30 percent. It is like a portfolio of junk bonds.”

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/28/business/an-afghan-media-mogul-pushing-boundaries.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Marc Rich, 78, Pardoned Financier, Dies in Switzerland

Marc Rich’s connections to the rich and powerful not only made him fabulously wealthy but when he was indicted for fraud, racketeering and tax evasion on a grand scale, they helped secure him a pardon from Bill Clinton, hours before the U.S. president left office.

That triggered a political firestorm from critics who alleged Rich bought his pardon through donations that his ex-wife had made to the Democratic Party.

Rich died Wednesday of a stroke at a hospital in Lucerne, near his home for decades. He was 78, and his Israel-based spokesman Avner Azulay said he would be buried Thursday in a kibbutz in Israel.

Throughout his storied career at the pinnacle of high finance, Rich was known as a man who could deliver the big deals thanks to personal relationships he had forged with powerful figures around the world.

In a rare 1992 interview with NBC, Rich said that in his business, “we’re not political…That’s just the philosophy of our company.”

Yet Rich cultivated contacts with powerful politicians — in the Middle East as well as the United States — and used those ties to make billions, often when it seemed all doors were closed.

During the Arab oil embargo of the 1970s, Rich used his Middle East contacts to purchase crude oil from Iran and Iraq and made a fortune selling it to American companies.

In 1981, Rich and a partner bought 20th Century Fox and three years later he sold his interest to Rupert Murdoch for $250 million.

But in 1983, while he was in Switzerland, Rich was indicted by a U.S. federal grand jury on more than 50 counts of fraud, racketeering, trading with Iran during the U.S. Embassy hostage crisis and evading more than $48 million in income taxes.

At the time it was the largest tax evasion case in U.S. history and could have earned him more than 300 years in prison.

Although the Swiss refused to arrest or extradite Rich, he stayed on the FBI’s Most Wanted List, narrowly escaping capture in Finland, Germany, Britain and Jamaica, until Clinton granted him a pardon on Jan. 20, 2001 — the day he handed over the keys to the White House to George W. Bush.

Last-minute presidential pardons are not uncommon in the United States, but this one raised a furor. Critics believed the case showed that justice means one thing for ordinary people and another for powerful insiders.

Rich had other advocates, however.

For years influential Israelis, including ex-Prime Minister Ehud Barak and the former chief of the Mossad spy agency, Shabtai Shavit, had been urging Clinton to pardon Rich, who over two decades had contributed up to $80 million to Israeli hospitals, museums, symphonies and to the absorption of immigrants.

Moreover, Federal Election Commission records showed that Rich’s ex-wife, songwriter Denise Rich, had donated $201,000 to the Democratic Party in 2000.

At the time, Rich’s lawyers were urging the U.S. to drop the tax evasion case. When the Justice Department refused to negotiate, Rich’s attorneys turned to Clinton.

Federal authorities investigated but found no evidence of wrongdoing. Election officials also dismissed a complaint accusing Denise Rich of donating campaign money and furniture to Hillary Clinton in exchange for the pardon.

Bill Clinton also denied any wrongdoing and said he acted on advice by prominent legal experts not connected to the trader.

Nevertheless, the current U.S. attorney general Eric Holder, who was deputy attorney general under Clinton, told a House committee weeks after the president’s decree that if he had known all the facts of the case, “I would not have recommended to the president that he grant the pardon.”

Rich was born in Antwerp, Belgium, on Dec. 18, 1934. His Jewish family fled from the Nazis to the United States, where he went to school and college in New York.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2013/06/26/world/europe/ap-eu-switzerland-obit-rich.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

DealBook: Liberty Global Reaches Deal for Virgin Media

John Malone, the chairman of Liberty Media, at a media and technology conference in Sun Valley, Idaho, in 2012.Paul Sakuma/Associated PressJohn Malone, the chairman of Liberty Media, at a media and technology conference in Sun Valley, Idaho, in 2012.

8:07 p.m. | Updated

LONDON – Liberty Global, the international cable company owned by the American billionaire John C. Malone, agreed on Tuesday to buy the British cable company Virgin Media for about $16 billion.

The deal gives Liberty Global access to Europe’s largest cable market, and pits Mr. Malone against Rupert Murdoch, his longtime rival and biggest shareholder in Britain’s largest pay-TV provider British Sky Broadcasting.

Under the terms of the deal, Liberty Global said it had offered a package of cash and stock that it valued at $47.87 for each share in Virgin Media, a 24 percent premium over Virgin Media’s closing price on Monday.

The takeover ranks as one of the 10 largest cable deals of all time, according to figures from the data provider Thomson Reuters.

“Virgin Media will add significant scale and a first-class management team in Europe’s largest and most dynamic media and communications market,” Mike Fries, Liberty Global’s president and chief executive, said in a statement.

“After the deal, roughly 80 percent of Liberty Global’s revenue will come from just five attractive and strong countries — the U.K., Germany, Belgium, Switzerland and the Netherlands.”

News of the talks, confirmed earlier in the day in a statement by Virgin Media, came amid heightened merger and acquisition activity in the European television business. As European broadcasters suffer from stagnant or falling advertising revenue, American media conglomerates, looking to expand their international presence, are playing a significant role.

Mr. Malone and Mr. Murdoch have gone head-to-head before. From 2004 to 2006, they fought for control of DirecTV, the American satellite television provider.

The clash ended with Mr. Malone yielding a stake that he had built up in News Corporation. But the Liberty Group, which has operations in 13 countries, completed its purchase of a controlling stake in DirecTV from News Corporation in a cash-and-equity deal worth roughly $11 billion.

In recent years, Liberty Global has been expanding its presence in Europe and has operations from Ireland to Romania, though it failed last month in its bid to acquire the Telenet Group of Belgium for $2.7 billion. Liberty Global owns a 58 percent stake in Telenet.

Since early 2010, Liberty has bought two German rivals to build its operations in Europe’s largest economy.

In response, News Corporation has been expanding its global cable business, including the $2.1 billion acquisition of Consolidated Media, the Australian pay-television company, late last year.

Since the beginning of the financial crisis, Virgin Media, whose commercials feature the Olympic sprinting star Usain Bolt, has announced job cuts and invested in its broadband structure to reduce costs and increase its market share in Britain’s competitive cable market.

The company’s market capitalization stands at more than $10 billion. Including debt, its enterprise value is around $19.4 billion, according Thomson Reuters. Shares of Virgin Media, which are primarily traded on the Nasdaq, were up nearly 18 percent to $45.61 on the news of the Liberty talks.

Virgin’s shares have jumped almost 90 percent in the last 12 months, as more consumers sign up for so-called bundled services, including Internet and cellphone contracts. Virgin Media will announce its earnings on Wednesday.

Analysts warned that it would be difficult for Liberty Global to make additional savings between its current European operations and those of Virgin Media because Liberty does not have a business in Britain.

They said Liberty waited to make its move until Virgin made several upgrades to its network and restructured its debt. While Virgin has been gaining market share, it has 4.9 million customers, or roughly half the number of subscribers as its larger rival, BSkyB, according to filings by the companies.

The British billionaire Richard Branson, whose Virgin brand is used for a variety of products and services, including airlines and banks, owns less than 3 percent of Virgin Media.

News of the talks also came amid heightened merger and acquisition activity in the European television business. In December, Discovery Communications agreed to pay $1.7 billion for the Scandinavian operations of a large German commercial television company.

According to news reports this week, the majority owners of the German company are considering a sale. American media companies, including Time Warner, have been mentioned as potential buyers.

Analysts say the flurry of activity is driven by a desire among pay-television companies and broadcasters to diversify revenue sources that are coming under increased pressure. So broadcasters are setting up pay-television channels, and cable and satellite companies are looking to new content delivery platforms, like the Internet.

While commercial broadcasters remain powerful in Germany, Britain is the most lucrative pay-television market in Europe, according to Screen Digest, a research firm.

Mark Scott reported from London, and Eric Pfanner from Paris.


This post has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: February 5, 2013

Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this article misstated the first name of the leader of News Corporation. He is Rupert Murdoch, not Richard.

Article source: http://dealbook.nytimes.com/2013/02/05/liberty-global-in-talks-to-buy-virgin-media/?partner=rss&emc=rss

DealBook: Malone’s Liberty Global Is in Talks to Buy Virgin Media

John Malone, the chairman of Liberty Media, at a media and technology conference in Sun Valley, Idaho, in 2012.Paul Sakuma/Associated PressJohn Malone, the chairman of Liberty Media, at a media and technology conference in Sun Valley, Idaho, in 2012.

6:59 a.m. | Updated

LONDON – Liberty Global, the international cable company owned by the American billionaire John C. Malone, is in discussions to buy the British cable company Virgin Media.

In a brief statement on Tuesday, Virgin Media said it was in talks with Liberty Global, which serves almost 20 million customers worldwide.

“Any such transaction would be subject to regulatory and other conditions,” Virgin Media said in a statement. Spokesmen for both Virgin Media and Liberty Global declined to comment further.

Virgin Media, whose primary listing is on Nasdaq, is the second-largest pay-TV provider in Britain after BSkyB, which is partly owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation.

A potential deal for Virgin Media would put Mr. Malone head-to-head with Mr. Murdoch, his longtime rival.

In 2008, the Liberty Group, which has operations in 13 countries, completed its purchase of a controlling stake in DirecTV, the satellite television provider, from News Corporation in a cash-and-equity deal worth roughly $11 billion.

The deal came after Mr. Malone’s purchase of a 16 percent stake in News Corporation, which he then traded for the satellite television operator, a number of regional sports networks and around $550 million cash.

Liberty Global has been expanding its presence in Europe and has operations from Ireland to Romania, though it failed last month in its bid to acquire the Belgian telecommunications company Telenet Group for $2.7 billion. Liberty Global currently owns a 58 percent stake in Telenet.

Shares in Virgin Media, which was formed through several mergers of small British cable companies and a cellphone company in the 2000s, rose almost 16 percent in afternoon trading in London on Tuesday.

Its shares have jumped almost 60 percent in the last 12 months, as more consumers sign up for so-called bundled services, including Internet and cellphone contracts.

Virgin Media’s market capitalization stands at $10.4 billion. Including debt, its enterprise value is around $19.4 billion, according to data from Thomson Reuters.

To secure a deal, analysts at Espirito Santo said Liberty Global may have to pay as much as $24 billion, though they questioned whether the international cable company could afford to fund the acquisition because of its existing high levels of debt.

Analysts also said that it would be difficult for Liberty Global to make costs savings between its current European operations and those of Virgin Media, adding that Liberty had waited to make its move for Virgin Media until the British cable operator had carried out a series of upgrades to its network and restructured its debt.

“Unless another bidder comes out of the woodwork, it’s hard to see much more of a premium on the price,” said Patrick Yau, a media analyst at Peel Hunt in London.

The British billionaire Richard Branson, whose Virgin brand is now used for a variety of products and services, including airlines and banks, owns less than 3 percent of Virgin Media.

While the British cable operator has been picking up market share, the company currently has 4.9 million customers, or roughly half the number of subscribers as its larger rival, BSkyB, according to filings from the companies.

In August, Liberty Media, the media conglomerate also controlled by Mr. Malone, agreed to buy a stake in Barnes Noble for $204 million, but declined to buy the bookseller outright.

The move disappointed some investors after Liberty had earlier offered to buy a 70 percent stake of Barnes Noble for $17 a share if its chairman, Leonard S. Riggio, who owns around 30 percent of the company, agreed to the deal.


This post has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: February 5, 2013

An earlier version of this article misidentified the leader of News Corporation because of an editing error. He is Rupert Murdoch, not Richard.

Article source: http://dealbook.nytimes.com/2013/02/05/liberty-global-in-talks-to-buy-virgin-media/?partner=rss&emc=rss

DealBook: Liberty Global in Talks to Buy Virgin Media

Liberty Global, the international broadband arm of John  Malone's media and telecom empire, has been expanding in Europe.Scott Olson/Getty ImagesLiberty Global, the international broadband arm of John C. Malone’s media and telecommunications empire, has been expanding in Europe.

6:59 a.m. | Updated

LONDON – Liberty Global, the international cable company owned by the American billionaire John C. Malone, is in discussions to buy the British cable company Virgin Media.

In a brief statement on Tuesday, Virgin Media said it was in talks with Liberty Global, which serves almost 20 million customers worldwide.

“Any such transaction would be subject to regulatory and other conditions,” Virgin Media said in a statement. Spokesmen for both Virgin Media and Liberty Global declined to comment further.

Virgin Media, whose primary listing is on Nasdaq, is the second-largest pay-TV provider in Britain after BSkyB, which is partly owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation.

A potential deal for Virgin Media would put Mr. Malone head-to-head with Mr. Murdoch, his longtime rival.

In 2008, the Liberty Group, which has operations in 13 countries, completed its purchase of a controlling stake in DirecTV, the satellite television provider, from News Corporation in a cash-and-equity deal worth roughly $11 billion.

The deal came after Mr. Malone’s purchase of a 16 percent stake in News Corporation, which he then traded for the satellite television operator, a number of regional sports networks and around $550 million cash.

Liberty Global has been expanding its presence in Europe and has operations from Ireland to Romania, though it failed last month in its bid to acquire the Belgian telecommunications company Telenet Group for $2.7 billion. Liberty Global currently owns a 58 percent stake in Telenet.

Shares in Virgin Media, which was formed through several mergers of small British cable companies and a cellphone company in the 2000s, rose almost 16 percent in afternoon trading in London on Tuesday.

Its shares have jumped almost 60 percent in the last 12 months, as more consumers sign up for so-called bundled services, including Internet and cellphone contracts.

Virgin Media’s market capitalization stands at $10.4 billion. Including debt, its enterprise value is around $19.4 billion, according to data from Thomson Reuters.

To secure a deal, analysts at Espirito Santo said Liberty Global may have to pay as much as $24 billion, though they questioned whether the international cable company could afford to fund the acquisition because of its existing high levels of debt.

Analysts also said that it would be difficult for Liberty Global to make costs savings between its current European operations and those of Virgin Media, adding that Liberty had waited to make its move for Virgin Media until the British cable operator had carried out a series of upgrades to its network and restructured its debt.

“Unless another bidder comes out of the woodwork, it’s hard to see much more of a premium on the price,” said Patrick Yau, a media analyst at Peel Hunt in London.

The British billionaire Richard Branson, whose Virgin brand is now used for a variety of products and services, including airlines and banks, owns less than 3 percent of Virgin Media.

While the British cable operator has been picking up market share, the company currently has 4.9 million customers, or roughly half the number of subscribers as its larger rival, BSkyB, according to filings from the companies.

In August, Liberty Media, the media conglomerate also controlled by Mr. Malone, agreed to buy a stake in Barnes Noble for $204 million, but declined to buy the bookseller outright.

The move disappointed some investors after Liberty had earlier offered to buy a 70 percent stake of Barnes Noble for $17 a share if its chairman, Leonard S. Riggio, who owns around 30 percent of the company, agreed to the deal.


This post has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: February 5, 2013

Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this article misidentified the leader of News Corporation. He is Rupert Murdoch, not Richard.

Article source: http://dealbook.nytimes.com/2013/02/05/liberty-global-in-talks-to-buy-virgin-media/?partner=rss&emc=rss

Media Decoder Blog: The Breakfast Meeting: Bloomberg and The Financial Times, and the First ‘Telecopter’

The Breakfast Meeting

What’s making news in media.

The stars are aligning, perhaps, for the purchase of The Financial Times by Bloomberg L.P., the media company whose shares are 90 percent controlled by New York’s mayor, Michael R. Bloomberg, Amy Chozick and Michael Barbaro write. The departure of two top executives at Pearson, the owner of The Financial Times, has made the sale of the newspaper seem a possibility. Bloomberg, which makes its money primarily from desktop terminals, would have to weigh the business advantages of going backward technologically to print; one advantage would be to gain a well-respected daily platform for Bloomberg content. (Thomson Reuters is also said to be likely to bid on the newspaper.)

  • The mayor has been cagey on the subject. Asked by an editor at The Financial Times in London, where Mr. Bloomberg was visiting, if he would buy the paper, Mr. Bloomberg replied, “I buy it every day.”

The division of News Corporation into separate entertainment and publishing companies has led to a change in leadership at The Wall Street Journal, the flagship of the soon-to-be-created publishing company. The newspaper’s editor, Robert Thomson, will lead the publishing company, and his deputy, Gerard Baker, will succeed him at The Journal, an appointment that was christened by News Corporation’s chairman, Rupert Murdoch, in a widely shared video that left no doubt about Mr. Murdoch’s confidence in the appointment, David Carr writes in the Media Equation column. Mr. Baker’s background as a neoconservative columnist with little management experience has many on the staff — speaking anonymously — expressing worries about what direction he will lead the newspaper.

The life on the run of the software pioneer John McAfee has been an irresistible draw for news media outlets, Jeff Wise writes. Mr. McAfee, the creator of a defense to computer viruses and founder of the company that bears his name, had relocated to the jungles of Belize, and in recent days he is reported to be a “person of interest” in the death of a neighbor. Since then, he has taken flight to Guatemala, all the while dropping hints and granting interviews. In retrospect, Mr. Wise writes, his decision to let journalists from Vice magazine tag along may not have been so advisable.

As part of a sponsorship deal with Pepsi, the pop star Beyoncé will appear in a new TV ad — her fifth for the soft drink since 2002 — and her face will be on a limited-edition line of soda cans, Ben Sisario writes. But, under an unusual arrangement, PepsiCo has agreed to create a multimillion-dollar fund to support the singer’s chosen creative projects. For Pepsi, Mr. Sisario writes, “the goal is to enhance its reputation with consumers by acting as something of an artistic patron instead of simply paying for celebrity endorsements.”

This fall, NBC has pulled off a notable turnaround, from worst to first in the ratings, Bill Carter writes. Its strategy has been to rely heavily on its singing competition, “The Voice,” broadcasting more than 40 hours of the show this season, which has improved ratings of the programs airing near it. Senior executives at competing networks warned that NBC could be overplaying its hand; the current edition of “The Voice” ends Dec. 18.

John Silva, the inventor of the “Telecopter” in the 1950s while he was chief engineer of the Los Angeles TV station KTLA, died on Nov. 27, Paul Vitello writes. Mr. Silva was 92. From today’s vantage point, where TV station’s helicopters are vital to local news — whether for reporting on traffic jams, car chases or out-of-control fires — the invention seems inevitable. But Mr. Silva had to work around many hurdles to turn a helicopter into a mobile TV station — both to ensure that a signal could be sent out, and that the helicopter could safely travel with the extra equipment.


Article source: http://mediadecoder.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/12/10/the-breakfast-meeting-bloomberg-and-the-financial-times-and-the-first-telecopter/?partner=rss&emc=rss

Murdochs’ Infighting Clouds Future of News Corp.

But behind that facade, the disclosure of widespread phone hacking at News Corporation’s British newspaper division was only the latest and most serious episode to test a father-son relationship that has frayed over the last few years, leaving both men at times not even on speaking terms. And that rift, which has been known only to those closest to the company, has opened up a question central to Rupert Murdoch’s legacy — can one of his children ever take the helm of his $62 billion media giant?

Their disagreements, which were described in detail by more than half a dozen former and current company officials and others close to the Murdochs, stemmed in large part from the clashing visions of a young technocratic student of modern management and a traditionalist who rules by instinct and conviction. The tension grew worse as the gap between the New York headquarters and James’s London operations, where he oversees the company’s European and Asian holdings, proved difficult to bridge.

The elder Mr. Murdoch reached his boiling point last winter, said one of the former officials, and delivered a blunt ultimatum to his son.

“You’re coming back to New York, or you’re out.”

The son consented. But now, as investors place more pressure on the Murdochs to disentangle themselves from the company they have tightly controlled for three generations, his role in the company is under threat. Shareholders will meet on Friday in Los Angeles to decide whether to re-elect the News Corporation board, which includes Rupert, James and Lachlan Murdoch, the eldest son. Though the family holds a 40 percent stake, giving the Murdochs effective control, and most analysts expect them to be re-elected, several large shareholders and a prominent investor advisory firm have recommended voting against them.

James Murdoch, 38, who approved a settlement in 2008 of more than $1 million to help resolve allegations of voice mail hacking at News of the World, the tabloid that News Corporation shut down in July, faces additional pressure back home in London. He is scheduled to testify before Parliament for a second time next month to address questions about the payment, with several ministers suggesting that it was part of an intentional cover-up of the phone hacking.

Within the company, James’s position became tenuous enough at one point this summer that he and other senior executives considered whether he should step aside, said one person with knowledge of the conversations.

Both Murdochs, through representatives, declined interview requests.

Rupert Murdoch, now 80, has long said he hopes one of his children will eventually run the company he built from an Australian newspaper franchise into one of the world’s most powerful and profitable media empires. With his daughter Elisabeth focused on her television production company in London, and Lachlan determined to continue running his media business in Sydney despite the elder Murdoch’s desire to bring him back into the company, James has been the heir apparent. But the hacking scandal and the simmering animosity with his father have destabilized his once inexorable ascent within the company.

“Rupert always thought of News Corp. as a family company because it had been given to him,” said Barry Diller, who helped the elder Mr. Murdoch build Fox into a formidable rival to the traditional networks. “It had been given to him through a tiny newspaper in Adelaide, but nevertheless it was his father’s company. I think that meant to him that tradition should continue. If, as he’s always said, his children were worthwhile.”

Succession Twist

James was not always viewed as the Murdoch who would end up running News Corporation. That mantle, it seemed to everyone inside the company, belonged to Lachlan. James, the youngest of Rupert’s four adult children, was a willful child. When he was served last at dinner, as was the family custom for the last born, James strenuously objected and, according to the Murdoch biographer Neil Chenoweth, repeatedly tried to rearrange the seats around the table.

He attended Harvard, but in 1994 dropped out to start a hip-hop record label, Rawkus, which News Corporation bought two years later.

Bill Carter contributed reporting.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=81e60b72b1e0c29ce7dffaae10992694

BSkyB Board Backs James R. Murdoch to Stay as Chairman

The board of British Sky Broadcasting, a satellite television company known as BSkyB, discussed James Murdoch’s role “at length” and decided he should keep the job, said a person with direct knowledge of the decision. The board planned to closely monitor developments linked to the phone hacking scandal, said the person, who declined to be identified because the meeting was private.

It was the first time BSkyB’s 14-member board had met since a public and political outcry over phone hacking at The News of the World, the now shuttered tabloid, forced News Corporation, the global media company controlled by James Murdoch’s father, Rupert Murdoch, to withdraw its offer for the rest of BSkyB.

News Corporation owns a 39 percent stake in BSkyB.

The board meeting had been initially scheduled to discuss BSkyB’s annual earnings, which are to be released on Friday, but the phone hacking scandal had obliged it to also address the question of whether James Murdoch should stay on as chairman. James and Rupert Murdoch faced angry questions from British lawmakers this month about how much they knew about phone hacking practices at The News of the World.

Keeping James Murdoch on the board of BSkyB, one of the best-performing and most important parts of News Corporation’s British business, is essential to the Murdoch family’s media empire, some analysts said. James Murdoch runs News Corporation’s European operations, which include the BSkyB stake and News International, the newspaper group that published The News of the World. He is also News Corporation’s deputy chief operating officer.

Pressure on James Murdoch intensified last week when two former News International executives contradicted testimony he had given to a parliamentary committee. The executives said that in 2008 they had made Mr. Murdoch aware of evidence that suggested phone hacking at The News of the World was more widespread. Mr. Murdoch denied he had ever been told that underlying evidence in the case implicated more than one reporter at the tabloid.

James Murdoch became chairman of BSkyB’s board, which also includes three other members who are on the News Corporation’s payroll, at the end of 2007, amid opposition from some institutional investors and pension funds. Some shareholders criticized the election process and said they would have preferred a chairman who was not linked to BSkyB’s biggest shareholder.

Lorna Tilbian, an analyst at Numis Securities in London, said James Murdoch’s support among BSkyB’s board members did not come as a surprise. “He’s done a good job as BSkyB’s chairman, and it’s innocent until proven guilty,” Ms. Tilbian said.

The phone hacking scandal might affect BSkyB in other ways. Ofcom, the British broadcasting regulator, is proceeding with inquiries into whether BSkyB remains “fit and proper” to hold a broadcasting license because of the hacking scandal still unfolding at the News Corporation.

The scandal took a toll on BSkyB’s share price because some investors were concerned that new investigations into phone hacking and bribery allegations could distract management. BSkyB’s shares slumped 16 percent from their peak this month. The shares remained unchanged at 7.2 pounds in London on Thursday.

BSkyB’s board also discussed whether  to either  pay a special dividend or buy back its own shares to compensate BSkyB shareholders, which include News Corporation, for the recent drop in the share price.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/29/world/europe/29bskyb.html?partner=rss&emc=rss