Magnate Rupert Murdoch’s surprise announcement he is stepping down as leader of his two companies leaves his son Lachlan firmly in line of succession at Fox and the rest of the media empire.
The 92-year-old Australian billionaire’s creation of Fox News Channel has made him an enduring force in American politics. He inherited a newspaper in Adelaide from his father in 1952 and eventually built a news and entertainment enterprise dominant in the United States and Britain.
Fox on Thursday said Murdoch would become chairman emeritus of both the news network’s parent company, Fox Corp, and the News Corp media holdings, effective in November. Lachlan will become News Corp chairman and continue as chief executive officer of Fox Corp.
Lachlan Murdoch said “we are grateful that he will serve as chairman emeritus and know he will continue to provide valued counsel”.
Fox News Channel has profoundly influenced television and national politics since its start in 1996, making Murdoch a hero to some and pariah to others. The 24-hour network converted the power and energy of political talk radio to television. Within six years, it outrated CNN and MSNBC, and still does.
But it has been a rough year for Fox, which was forced to pay $US787 million ($A1.2 billion) to settle a defamation lawsuit related to its coverage of false claims following the 2020 presidential election. Fox also fired its most popular personality, Tucker Carlson.
Stock in Fox Corp, while positive this year, began to decline early in 2022, due in part to lawsuits and investor anxiety.
Despite Murdoch’s advanced age, Thursday’s announcement took some by surprise.
“I do find it shocking because I figured that Rupert would be around until he couldn’t take a breath,” said writer Claire Atkinson, who is working on a biography of Murdoch.
In a letter Thursday to staff, Murdoch thundered about elites who have “open contempt for those who are not members of their rarefied class.” Murdoch’s letter made it clear he doesn’t consider himself one of them, despite his status as a media executive and his family’s wealth, estimated by Forbes in 2020 at about $US19 billion ($A30 billion).
He also indicated his retirement won’t include much beach time.
“I can guarantee you that I will be involved every day in the contest of ideas,” he wrote. “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.”
Major changes are unlikely right away under Lachlan Murdoch, who’s largely been running things as CEO for a couple of years.
When Murdoch dies, control of the Fox empire will revert to his four adult children, each of whom has an equal say in the business.
For decades, Murdoch was one of the most powerful media figures in Britain, a market he entered after buying the tabloid News of the World in 1969. He reinvigorated Britain’s stodgy newspaper scene with sex, scandal and celebrity and helped shake up television with satellite broadcaster Sky.
His clout has waned since the revelation more than a decade ago that employees of the News of the World had eavesdropped on phones and used other underhanded methods to get scoops on celebrities, politicians and royals. News Corp. owns the Times, Sunday Times and Sun newspapers, but News of the World closed and Murdoch sold his 40 per cent stake in Sky when he failed to get complete control of the company.
Fox News went through a series of sexual harassment scandals in the 2010s, which led to top executive Roger Ailes and prime-time personality Bill O’Reilly being pushed out. Murdoch dismissed them as isolated instances that were “largely political because we’re conservative”.