Murdoch Blocks Malone — Maybe

News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch and Liberty Media Corp. chairman John Malone reached a stalemate last week, with News adopting a shareholder’s-rights plan aimed at thwarting any attempt at a takeover by Malone.

Malone recently cut a deal with Merrill Lynch International to swap about $1.5 billion of nonvoting News Corp. shares for voting stock, raising Liberty’s voting stake to 17% from 9%. Liberty would trail only Murdoch’s 29.5% voting clout.

The “poison pill” could stop Malone from acquiring a larger voting share than Murdoch — but might play into Malone’s plans to get News to either buy his News shares or some Liberty content assets.

Liberty said it never considered a hostile takeover. “We view ourselves as allies of News Corp. and the Murdoch family and we have no hostile intentions,” Liberty CEO Dob Bennett said on a conference call last week to discuss quarterly results. “We are a large, happy, friendly shareholder.”

Later, Bennett said News directors are scheduled to meet to discuss the rights plan and hinted the two could work out a deal to swap assets.

Some see Malone combining content assets like Liberty’s 50% interest in Discovery Communications Inc., or its 100% of Starz Encore Group LLC, with content from News Corp. and creating a separate company.

Stifel, Nicolaus & Co. cable analyst Ted Henderson thinks Malone might go after News Corp. programming assets, such as the National Geographic Channel.