The present antipathy between two of the planet's most steely media magnates - News Corporation's Rupert Murdoch and John C Malone, padrone of cable colossus Liberty Media - appears to have cooled from kneejerk aggression to a cautious standoff.

The recent deterioration in their relationship - which over the years has veered from animosity to cordiality and back again - was triggered by Malone's swap transaction with Merrill Lynch which earlier this month bought 85 million NewsCorp voting shares on Liberty's behalf [WAMN 05-Nov-04].

Liberty can, if it wishes, acquire these shares next year, thereby lifting its stake from 9.% to 17.2%. The Murdoch family controls NewsCorp via a mere 12.6% stake that magically morphs into 29.5% of the voting rights.

Little wonder, therefore, that Rupert is reaching for his security blanket.

But on Tuesday patriarch Murdoch waved an olive branch Malone-ward. He would be "happy", he claimed, for Malone to become a larger shareholder in the company - provided he signed an agreement abjuring further share purchases.

It is not known if Malone will accept being thus handcuffed; many Malone-watchers doubt it, but the tycoon continues to insist his deferred shopping spree for NewsCorp shares is "entirely friendly" and no threat to the Murdoch family.

Meantime, the Murdochs are almost certainly running the 'standstill' idea up the flagpole to see if Malone salutes. No formal request has been made that Malone should sign such an agreement and the two are seemingly in no hurry to meet.

According to Murdoch, they will do so within the 'next month or so'. At which time, "all possibilities" will be on the agenda.

Data sourced from Financial Times Online; additional content by WARC staff