Rupert Murdoch, known for his determined leadership in building a media empire that left a significant mark on national politics in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia, will retire from his role as the symbolic leader of the companies under his control, Fox Corp. and News Corp. This decision could potentially trigger uncertainties regarding the future of both entities.
BREAKING: Rupert Murdoch steps down as chairman of Fox and News Corp. pic.twitter.com/brsJ43n00K
— The General (@GeneralMCNews) September 21, 2023
Lachlan Murdoch, his son, is set to assume the position of chairman at both companies, Fox Corp. and News Corp. These entities collectively oversee Fox News Channel and The Wall Street Journal in the United States, as well as The Times and The Sun in the United Kingdom. At the age of 92, Rupert Murdoch, the patriarch, will transition into an emeritus role. The shareholders of each company are anticipated to approve these changes in mid-November. It’s worth noting that Rupert Murdoch is expected to retain control of the family trust that governs both organizations.
Rupert Murdoch Steps Down – Writes Letter Appointing His Son As New Head Of Fox Corp pic.twitter.com/MKXmXOl1kV
— Trish Regan (@trish_regan) September 22, 2023
“On behalf of the Fox and News Corp boards of directors, leadership teams, and all the shareholders who have benefited from his hard work, I congratulate my father on his remarkable 70-year career,” said Lachlan Murdoch in a statement. “We thank him for his vision, his pioneering spirit, his steadfast determination, and the enduring legacy he leaves to the companies he founded and countless people he has impacted. We are grateful that he will serve as Chairman Emeritus and know he will continue to provide valued counsel to both companies.”
In a memo addressed to the staff, Rupert Murdoch mentioned “the time is right for me to take on different roles, knowing that we have truly talented teams and a passionate, principled leader in Lachlan who will become sole Chairman of both companies.”
The shift occurs during a challenging period for the Murdochs. Earlier this year, Fox Corp. made a substantial $787.5 million settlement payment to Dominion Voting Systems, a voting technology firm that had accused Fox News Channel anchors and guests of intentional defamation in the wake of the 2020 presidential election. This has led to shareholder lawsuits against Fox, as well as another defamation lawsuit from a different voting company, Smartmatic, which is anticipated to commence in 2025.
Following Dominion’s legal victory, Fox removed Tucker Carlson, the most-watched individual opinion host on Fox News Channel. Similar to other cable news networks, Fox has grappled with fluctuations in ratings despite launching a new primetime lineup. While Fox News Channel is considered a financial cornerstone of the Murdoch empire, the millions it generates from advertising and distribution fees are under threat due to the migration of viewers from traditional TV to streaming services. Additionally, some staunch conservatives are turning to smaller media outlets like Newsmax or even individual hosts like Carlson, who has launched his own video podcast on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter.
In March 2019, the Murdochs streamlined their portfolio by selling the majority of their cable and studio assets to Walt Disney Co. In hindsight, this decision appears astute. Cable networks, including FX and Nat Geo, both of which were part of the sale, have faced a gradual decline in the streaming age. Disney has even recently reached an agreement with Charter Communications to allow the distributor to discontinue some of its popular cable channels.
Rupert Murdoch initially made his mark as a print mogul by acquiring the News of Adelaide, a newspaper previously owned by his father. Over time, he expanded his media presence into New Zealand and the United Kingdom. In the 1970s, he ventured into the United States with the purchase of the San Antonio Express News. By the 1980s, he gained control of the 20th Century Fox movie studio. In 1986, Murdoch utilized a cluster of TV stations under his control to launch the Fox broadcast network. Despite some initial challenges, Fox emerged as a formidable competitor to ABC, NBC, and CBS, particularly after securing NFL broadcasting rights in 1993.
“I am truly proud of what we have achieved collectively through the decades, and I owe much to my colleagues, whose contributions to our success have sometimes been unseen outside the company but are deeply appreciated by me,” his memo further stated. “Whether the truck drivers distributing our papers, the cleaners who toil when we have left the office, the assistants who support us or the skilled operators behind the cameras or the computer code, we would be less successful and have less positive impact on society without your day-after-day dedication.”
However, Murdoch’s ambitions extended beyond mere entertainment. He consistently sought to exert influence in national politics by utilizing his media holdings to champion causes and candidates whom he believed should hold public office. Fox News, established in 1996, was widely regarded as a staunch ally of Donald Trump during his presidency and has played a significant role in shaping the Republican Party’s trajectory in the United States.
Rupert Murdoch emphasized that “our companies are in robust health, as am I.”
“Our opportunities far exceed our commercial challenges,” he stated. “We have every reason to be optimistic about the coming years – I certainly am, and plan to be here to participate in them. But the battle for the freedom of speech and, ultimately, the freedom of thought, has never been more intense.”
Speculation about the future of the Murdoch empire has persisted for some time, with discussions about potential shifts in direction led by Rupert Murdoch’s heirs – his sons Lachlan and James, and daughters Elisabeth and Prudence. James, notably, holds political views that diverge significantly from his brother Lachlan, who aligns more closely with the right-wing and conservative content featured on Fox News.
Rupert Murdoch has asserted that he intends to maintain an active role in the operations. In his capacity as chairman emeritus, he clarified that he “will be involved every day in the contest of ideas,” adding, “Our companies are communities, and I will be an active member of our community. I will be watching our broadcasts with a critical eye, reading our newspapers and websites and books with much interest, and reaching out to you with thoughts, ideas, and advice. When I visit your countries and companies, you can expect to see me in the office late on a Friday afternoon.”