NEW YORK CITY: Conservative media mogul Rupert Murdoch on Wednesday pledged to maintain an “active role” in the business as he handed control of his global empire to son Lachlan amid questions about how Fox News will handle next year’s presidential election.
After decades running a sprawling news operation in Australia, Britain and the United States, the 92-year-old Murdoch officially became chairman emeritus at News Corp at a shareholders’ meeting on Wednesday.
He will formally pass the baton to 52-year-old Lachlan — who is believed to share his father’s conservative leanings — at Fox Corp on Friday. But the formidable tycoon made it clear he was not disappearing entirely from the media scene.
“I hope to continue an active role in the company,” Murdoch told shareholders, adding that Lachlan will now be the company’s “sole Chair.”
He had already told Fox employees when the transition was announced in September that he would still watch broadcasts “with a critical eye,” and they could expect to sometimes see him in their offices “late on a Friday afternoon.”
The Australian-born Murdoch rose from local news in Adelaide to amassing a stable of legacy newspapers in Britain and the United States before launching into broadcast media.
Aggressive tabloids like The Sun and New York Post, storied dailies The Times and Wall Street Journal, and big-hitting television networks like Fox and Sky have turned the Murdoch family into some of the world’s most influential figures.
At Wednesday’s shareholders’ meeting, Murdoch — whose outlets have been accused of pushing the rise of populism in Britain and the United States, symbolized by Brexit and the ascent of Donald Trump — fretted about free speech.
“There is no doubt that we should all be concerned about the suppression of debate by an intolerant elite who regard differing opinions as anathema,” he said.
Fox, Trump and 2024
The Murdoch family transition comes as Fox News navigates choppy waters.
In recent years, Fox News has faced allegations of disseminating disinformation about Covid-19 and promoting the false notion that the 2020 presidential election won by Joe Biden over Trump was rigged to ensure the Democrat’s victory.
That notion fueled angry Trump supporters on Jan. 6, 2021 when they stormed the US Capitol in a deadly outburst of violence.
In April, Fox News reached a $787.5-million settlement in a defamation case brought by voting technology firm Dominion that alleged the network knowingly aired false claims linking its machines to a conspiracy to undermine the election.
A week after the settlement, Fox ousted conservative firebrand Tucker Carlson, one of several prominent network figures who had publicly championed Trump, while privately disparaging the conspiracy theory-peddling Republican.
The network lost some viewers but remained ahead of rivals CNN and MSNBC.
Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham, the network’s other weeknight talk show stars, have continued to blast Biden and constantly claim without evidence that Trump’s legal woes are the result of a justice system weaponized by Democrats against him.
Trump, the Republican presidential front-runner, has, meanwhile, spurned all debates with his rivals, including those organized by Fox News, once his preferred channel.
“From a content perspective, from a tone perspective, they’re very similar to where they always have been,” Angelo Carusone, chief executive officer of Media Matters for America, a liberal group, said of Fox News.
“But they’re not in the same place with respect to the rest of the media environment and the Republican Party. They’re not as powerful. They’re a lot less influential,” he told Agence France-Presse (AFP).
Much like the party, Fox must treat Trump as the country’s conservative leader, experts say.
“They have tried to boost other candidates along the way, but it’s just not been something as effective. They’ve been starving Donald Trump of oxygen and airtime a little bit. And yet he’s still thriving,” Carusone said.