Shareholders attending News Corporation's annual general meeting on Wednesday [Australian date/time], heard from group founder and executive chairman Rupert Murdoch that in 2004 they might enjoy the rare privilege of having their cake and eating it too.

The meeting, held as usual in Adelaide, Australia, learned that the long-lived US advertising drought is over. Bookings across all networks for the year ahead are "just sensational and much better [in terms of volumes and prices] than we expected," Murdoch reported.

"All the signs for the US economy are very strong" and the chairman's "hunch" is that 2004 advertising levels are going to be "extremely good".

But although the meeting liked what it heard, investors were less euphoric over NewsCorp's meager dividend policy. The chairman hastened to soothe the dissidents, saying he understood their desire for higher payments. But debt reduction remained a priority.

"However I understand what you are saying, and we are sympathetically inclined," Murdoch schmoozed. "I think as you see us grow further from now we will certainly be looking at the dividend policy."

But although long on sympathy, the chairman was short on detail as to when and by how much shareholders' pain would be eased.

Nor was he willing to be drawn on his controversial attempt to shoehorn younger son James into the chief executive's role at NewsCorp's UK satellite business BSkyB. "I am confident that the best candidate will be appointed," he told the meeting.

Murdoch minor, currently still at the helm of troubled Hong Kong-based Star TV, had remedied "the most difficult single situation we had in the whole company," opined doting dad.

Data sourced from: Yahoo! Finance (Singapore); additional content by WARC staff