Rupert Murdoch’s “succession” announcement comes at a critical time for news (small ‘n’) as it does for his News Corp behemoth.
Reliable information is under threat not only in the social media jungle, but also through the misuse of words such as misinformation and disinformation. Proposed legislation likely to emerge from the Australia’s dangerous Albanese government aims to define words it does not properly understand.
And Greens senator Sarah Hanson Young – who learned plenty about the Murdoch factor from witnesses to the Senate inquiry into media diversity – could seize the opportunity to make legislation more restrictive, rather than less so, putting truth under threat.
There’s a context to Murdoch’s larger decision to “hand the reins” to Lachlan, while still engaging with “news and ideas” and no doubt occupying staff late into Friday evenings.
Whether that engagement will begin to taper off from November, or will continue until an abrupt halt, will depend on the “robust health” of the emeritus chairman to be.
Believe what you will of the denials of past decades, but there’s no doubt that Murdoch has relished the power over politics afforded him by his media mastheads; the raison d'être of his creation of The Australian just short of six decades ago, and his acquisitions in the UK and US.
He deserves credit too, for allowing News’ bulk to be used to stand up against Big Tech, and for the support that has made Australia’s news media bargaining code a global leader.
Today’s announcement – too late for Friday’s Oz, but of course, front page news the following day – has prompted an outpouring of analysis as the world’s press reached into their obituary files for pre-written text… plus a bump in the Newscorp share price. Check out this from Australia’s ABC, including the story of Murdoch’s 2018 “sailing accident” and what daughter Prudence did when her father said he only had three children…
No question that it’s been a wild ride. And fascinating to watch. I well recall the flimsy pro-union broadsheet with its orange Sun masthead that Murdoch transformed into a Thatcherite tabloid with busty Page Three pictures… and the anger that followed.
When Wapping came, the community newspaper business I was trying to build in north Kent was too close for the print unions to allow any industrial relations precedents.
The Murdoch factor was again personal when my wife and I arrived in her home country of Australia to start a new career just as Rupert’s 1986 acquisition of the Herald & Weekly Times made getting a job in news impossible.
Good timing however, as it turned out, for when Murdoch committed to splash a billion Australian dollars on printing presses… and when the project reached Melbourne, to be asked not to refer to the Westgate site as “docklands”.
Thus it was that I became an observer, initially as editor of Bill Minnis’ innovative Ink magazine… a journey that ultimately led here.
Watching from the sidelines – my father took on the Kent newspaper the same year Murdoch inherited The News in Adelaide, but died at 50 – what is most apparent is the driving energy Rupert has applied continuously to the deals that built his power and position.
He has rarely faltered, the 1990s cash crisis – resolved by that “we are where we are; nobody gets out” declaration and details such as slowing the installation of the Newsman presses in Murarrie – being an exception.
There’s speculation other problems – notably the expensive UK phone-tapping scandal – may have been exacerbated by lapses of judgment. As of recent reports that Murdoch had thought the Dominion suit might be settled for a fraction of the US$787 million (A$1.23 billion) it cost.
These are mere details in the order of things for a company that took US$9.9 billion (A$15.4 billion) in revenue this year and made more than US$1.4 billion (A$2.18 billion) profit.
Notable has been the balance of a palpable passion for print – along with recognition of its impact in the corridors or power – coupled with the unsentimental approach that saw hundreds of historic newspapers dumped in 2020.
What happens now? Hopefully “Succession-style” intra-family challenges will not impinge on the vitality of the new leadership. Lachlan may not share his father’s passion for political influence, but if editors are expecting to hear less from the patriarch any time soon, I’d recommend not holding their breath.
Meanwhile, a bigger picture sees truth more challenged than for some time, and I’d still see News on the side of the good guys, for all its bias, self-interest and alternative agenda. Lachlan, we’re expecting a lot from you!
Pictured: An emotional Murdoch at the opening of the American Australian Association Murdoch Centre opening in New York in March (picture The Australian/Jenna Bascom Photography)