CBS Inc. held its annual meeting today in a circus-like atmosphere amid a continuing swirl of rumors that the corporation is about to become the target of a hostile takeover bid by broadcasting magnate Ted Turner.
Sources said late tonight Turner is expected to reveal Thursday that he has asked the Federal Communications Commission to give him approval to proceed with his takeover bid.
Turner repeatedly has expressed his desire to take over a major network; he recently told The Washington Post that he would make a bid for CBS if he could raise the money.
Speculation about Turner's bid was barely mentioned at CBS's annual meeting today. Instead, the company spent much of the meeting defending its network news coverage against charges of a liberal bias -- charges that have triggered an attack by political conservatives, which, in turn, has led to takeover speculation.
Before the meeting even began, more than 60 journalists waiting to be admitted crowded around two men delivering soap-box speeches outside the CBS studio alleging "liberal bias" in CBS network news coverage.
And once the meeting got under way, CBS Chairman Thomas H. Wyman was constantly interrupted by vocal stockholders demanding to know the answers to a variety of questions ranging from the cost of the legal defense in the libel suit brought by Gen. William Westmoreland to the makeup of the board of directors.
During the meeting, CBS showed a 15-minute film supporting the independence and integrity of its news operations -- a production later denounced from the floor by one stockholder as propaganda.
Wyman, in defending the network's news coverage, told the shareholders that "recently we have faced challenges from several parties who would either oversee or overturn the organization which has provided news and information for 58 years to the American public. We are quite clear that the integrity of CBS News and the independence of CBS News are inextricably linked. We are dedicated to resisting efforts which threaten both our ability to live up to our public trust, and CBS News' tradition of excellence and independence."
Meanwhile, on Wall Street, the company's stock dropped 6 1/8 today, closing at 109 3/4, after several analysts advised their clients to sell CBS stock, which had risen about 20 points in the past week amid speculation about a takeover bid. Analysts today expressed considerable skepticism that there would be a viable bid for the company.
On Monday, the most popular rumor on Wall Street was that E. F. Hutton was trying to raise money for a hostile takeover attempt by Turner. Neither Turner nor Hutton has confirmed or denied the rumors.
While the flurry of rumors about a takeover bid by Turner continues, the Cable News Network founder is keeping a low public profile. Most Wall Street analysts and investment bankers do not believe the Turner-Hutton team can raise the billions it would take to acquire control of CBS, and CBS repeatedly has said it would vigorously oppose any hostile takeover bid.
So far, the only investor who has purchased a significant stake in CBS since the company became the target of takeover rumors is Ivan Boesky. Boesky, the Wall Street arbitrageur who bought 8.7 percent of the company for $247 million, is the target of both a CBS lawsuit charging that he violated federal securities laws in purchasing his stock and of unconfirmed reports circulating among Wall Street analysts that he has been trying to increase the value of his CBS shares by creating the impression in the financial press that a takeover bid for CBS is imminent.
CBS has been the target of takeover rumors since Jan. 10, when a conservative group supported by Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) told the Securities and Exchange Commission that it would encourage conservatives to purchase CBS stock. The group said its strategy was to organize a large group of individual stockholders to influence network news coverage at CBS, which the group believes has a "liberal bias."
A representative of the conservative Fairness in Media group supported by Helms said today the group plans to give its complete support to Turner in the event that he launches a formal takeover bid for CBS.
In any event, the spokesman said, the group will contact CBS stockholders next month to find out how many of them agree that the network has liberally biased news coverage. Hoover Adams, a stockholder who has been working with Fairness in Media, said today he believes CBS should give religious broadcasters such as Billy Graham free time on the CBS network, as a public service.