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Tuesday, December 01, 2020

Explained: Why James Murdoch resigned from his father Rupert Murdoch’s media empire

The 47-year-old James was at one point considered Rupert Murdoch’s heir apparent, before that mantle was taken up by elder brother Lachlan Murdoch.

Written by Kabir ER , Edited by Explained Desk | New Delhi | Updated: August 3, 2020 7:17:50 am
James Murdoch resigns, James Murdoch, Rupert Murdoch, Lachlan murdoch, news corp, fox media, Rupert Murdoch sons, Rupert Murdoch family, indian express, express explained James Murdoch resigned from the board of News Corp on July 31. (Photo: Kevin Hagen/The New York Times)

James Murdoch resigned from the board of News Corp on Friday (July 31), bringing to an end his association with his father Rupert Murdoch’s massive and influential media empire.

In his resignation letter, he made it clear that he disagreed with the content published by the group. The 47-year-old James was at one point considered Rupert Murdoch’s heir apparent, before that mantle was taken up by Lachlan Murdoch, two years James’s senior and more ideologically aligned with their father.

What is the Murdoch media empire?

Keith Murdoch, Rupert’s father, was an Australian journalist and the owner of two local newspapers. After his death in 1952, one of the two newspapers he owned had to be sold, but the other, News of Adelaide, was taken over by Rupert. He then went on to purchase more newspapers in the country until his empire controlled a large chunk of the Australian newspaper market. Rupert soon expanded his interests into both the United Kingdom and the United States.

In the UK, he acquired the popular tabloids The News of the World and The Sun, as well as the more serious Times of London. The News of the World was discontinued in 2011 after it was revealed that the tabloid repeatedly hacked the phones of celebrities and others for stories. Murdoch also bought Sky, one of Britain’s leading TV broadcasters, before selling it in 2018.

In the US, Murdoch bought The New York Post and started the influential Fox News channel. More recently, he also acquired The Wall Street Journal.

The Murdoch media empire also expanded across other parts of the world, including in India through Star India. However, last year, Murdoch sold 21st Century Fox to Disney. This meant the handing over of global networks of entertainment channels and content, including Star. Murdoch set up a new company called Fox Corporation in 2019 to run the 21st Century Fox assets that he did not sell to Disney, including Fox News.

What role did the children play in the family business?

Rupert Murdoch has been married four times and has six children. Prudence MacLeod, his daughter with his first wife Patricia Booker, has held directorial roles within the family business. With his second wife, Anna Torv, Murdoch had three children – Elisabeth, Lachlan and James. Elisabeth is a media executive and company director, but the struggle to be Rupert Murdoch’s heir has mostly played out between Lachlan and James. Murdoch also has two teenaged children with his third wife, Wendi Deng.

James Murdoch resigns, James Murdoch, Rupert Murdoch, Lachlan murdoch, news corp, fox media, Rupert Murdoch sons, Rupert Murdoch family, indian express, express explained Rupert Murdoch and his son Lachlan at a gala in New York, April 2015. (Photo: Krista Schlueter/The New York Times)

Murdoch had initially favoured Lachlan as his successor, with the elder of the two brothers rising to the post of deputy chief operating officer of News Corp before he turned 34. However, according to a New York Times report, Lachlan would repeatedly clash with senior executives at the company. With Rupert refusing to take his side, Lachlan left the company and headed back to Australia. After this, James came to be considered Murdoch’s heir apparent.

However, the phone-hacking scandal involving Murdoch-owned newspapers in Britain adversely affected the relationship between James and Rupert, who both blamed each other for how it was handled.

In 2015, Rupert reinstalled Lachlan as his successor. Lachlan was made co-chairman of 21st Century Fox along with Rupert himself, whereas James was made the chief executive of the company. After the sale of the company to Disney and the subsequent formation of the Fox Corporation in 2018, Lachlan was chosen to head the company and was made its CEO.

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How did James differentiate himself within the company?

Murdoch-owned media has played an influential role in the American and British political shift further to the right in recent years. Murdoch’s The Sun, one of the most popular newspapers in Britain, was at the forefront of a campaign to take the UK out of the European Union, resulting not only in Brexit, but also in the political rise of Boris Johnson. In the US, Fox News has been for years the trusted source of news and opinion for the nation’s conservatives. It played a big role in Trump’s election and in amplifying his messaging to his base.

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However, James Murdoch has associated himself more closely with liberal ideas than his father and brother. He has championed environmental issues and criticised the editorial line taken by Murdoch outlets regarding climate change. He has also criticised Trump and openly supported Democratic rival Joe Biden’s White House bid.

James also worked to expand their business to new emerging markets and on new platforms.

What now?

With the sale of 21st Century Fox, James lost his post as Fox CEO, and now with his resignation from the board of News Corp, he has severed all corporate ties with his father’s media empire. He remains a beneficiary of the Murdoch Family Trust, and has founded a firm that invests in start-ups focusing on environmentally sustainable projects. He has also bought a stake in the liberal media outlet Vice Media.

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