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Wed 6 Jun 2007 12:00 PM

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Media news roundup

Rupert Murdoch meets with Dow Jones family; no 'smoking gun' in Conrad Black trial; WPP's Sorrell gets $2m paycheque.

Media mogul Rupert Murdoch said yesterday that he had a "constructive" meeting with the family that controls Dow Jones & Co that his $5 billion offer for the company will not undermine its flagship newspaper, The Wall Street Journal.

Murdoch, 76, and his son James, met key members of the Bancroft family, which in total holds 64% of the voting power in Dow Jones, for the first time in New York.

"We had a very long and constructive meeting," Murdoch said.

One focus of the five hours of discussions was safeguards to preserve editorial independence at the Journal, which is a key concern for the Bancrofts, as well as editors and reporters at Dow Jones.

The union representing over 2,000 Dow Jones workers, the Independent Association of Publishers' Employees, said yesterday it had retained advisers to seek alternative bids that could better protect the publication's "unquestioned journalistic integrity".

News Corp is reportedly willing to explore a policy similar to one Reuters Group employs, giving a board of trustees the power to block any deal and prevent any one shareholder from owning more than a 15% stake without the trustees' consent.

Monday's meeting comes after the Bancrofts, a majority of whom initially objected to the deal, said last week they were willing to discuss conditions for selling the Journal while protecting its editorial independence.

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No "smoking gun" has been produced in the fraud trial of ex-media tycoon Conrad Black, attorneys observing the 11-week US trial have said.

Attorneys said the prosecution, which wrapped up its case last week, constructed a solid argument, but have not produced the telling piece of evidence that resoundingly implicates Black.

The 62-year-old and three co-defendants at former Chicago-based media giant Hollinger International are accused of committing a $60 million fraud and abused company perks.

Black, who built and then dismantled one of the world's largest newspaper publishing empires, faces 13 counts of fraud, tax evasion, obstructing justice and racketeering.

Prosecutors dropped one count of money laundering without comment.

If convicted, Black could face up to 101 years in jail and millions of dollars in fines and forfeitures.

Prosecutors charge that Black and the others used so-called non-competition agreements - assurances made to buyers of Hollinger newspaper properties that sellers would not compete against them in a given market - to pay themselves tax-free bonuses.

Witnesses for the prosecution included David Radler, who built Hollinger with Black over more than three decades.

Radler has pleaded guilty and agreed to testify in exchange for a lesser sentence to be served in his native Canada.

Still to come is the bulk of the defense case, which may last only a week longer, with none of the four defendants considered likely to testify.

The defense has indicated it will show that non-compete agreements are standard in the newspaper industry.

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The chief executive of the world's second-largest marketing services company, WPP Group, will take home a basic salary of 1 million pounds ($2 million) this year after a 19% pay rise, the company said yesterday.

WPP said in its annual report that Martin Sorrell's pay rise from 840,000 pounds ($1.67 million), which took effect on January 1, was the first increase in the 62-year-old's base salary since September 1999.

However, WPP added that Sorrell's bonus this year could be worth up to 200% of his base salary with a target of 10%.

Last year, his bonus was worth 192% of his salary and his overall remuneration rose by 16,000 pounds to 3.29 million.

WWP has over 75 offices in the Middle East and owns companies such as Bates PanGulf, Hill & Knowlton and Mediacom.