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Bowing out of the family media empire, James Murdoch challenges conservative line

James Murdoch in London, 2012.
James Murdoch in London, 2012. JUSTIN TALLIS AFP
4 min

Once seen as a contender for succession at his father Rupert Murdoch’s global media empire, James Murdoch resigned from the board of News Corp on Friday, citing ‘editorial disagreements’. The decision to step down severs his last corporate ties with his family and their companies’ politically conservative outlook.

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“My resignation is due to disagreements over certain editorial content published by the company’s news outlets and certain other strategic decisions,” James Murdoch, 47, wrote in his letter, which News Corp disclosed soon after the close of business on Friday.

News Corp, the publishing arm of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire, owns the Wall Street Journal, the New York Post, the UK's The Times, The Sunday Times and The Sun, and the publishers Harper Collins, amongst other media outlets. Rupert Murdoch’s other media company, Fox Corp, is the parent company of 24-hour cable news channel Fox News and the Fox broadcast network.

His resignation severs his last corporate ties to his father’s media empire. He had already resigned from Fox News Corporation – which his brother Lachlan heads up – and made no secret of his distaste for the cable channel’s opinions.

“There are views I really disagree with on Fox,” he told the New Yorker last year.

The decision to step down from the company comes amid escalating political differences with his father, Rupert Murdoch, 88, and his brother, Lachlan Murdoch, 48, widely seen as the heir apparent.

Rupert Murdoch is a longtime ally and supporter of US president Donald Trump, who counts Fox News as a major media ally.

The Liberal of the family

Just weeks ago James Murdoch and his wife Kathryn, who are based in New York, donated more than $1 million to a fund-raiser for the presumptive Democratic nominee for president Joe Biden.

Known as the liberal in the family, James Murdoch has been increasingly vocal in his support for the environment and a string of other progressive causes.

Along with his wife Kathryn, he has backed a programme at the Center for New American Security, a bipartisan thinktank, which aims to counter disinformation and electoral interference. It also seeks to increase American voter turnout, a tactic that could help to oust Trump in the forthcoming election.

In March 2019 he launched his own investment firm, Lupa Systems, which backs start-ups and focuses on sustainability projects.

And in a move that further distanced him from the politically conservative News Corp, in October last year he bought a small stake in Vice Media, the left-leaning online news platform.

Aside his interest in US politics, James Murdoch has expressed concerns over fake news and the widening schism between Left and Right.

"The connective tissue of our society is being manipulated to make us fight with each other, making us the worst versions of ourselves,” he told the New Yorker last year.

Climate change

Murdoch father and son also hold widely divergent views on climate change.

In February, as wildfires raged across Australia, where Rupert Murdoch was born, James and Kathryn Murdoch, an environmental activist, hit out at News Corp and Fox News’ coverage of climate change.

As fires tore through more than 115,000 square kilometres, levelling thousands of homes, choking high-density cities with smoke, killing countless wildlife and leaving more than 28 people dead, News Corp Australia broadcast commentary from prominent climate change denier Andrew Bolt.

A spokesperson for the couple told the Daily Beast: “They are particularly disappointed with the ongoing denial of the role of climate change among the news outlets in Australia, given obvious evidence to the contrary.”

News Corp Australia said its coverage "reflected [that] there are a variety of views and opinions about the current fire crisis”.

Before Trump’s rise to power, James Murdoch’s business relationship with his father had also been strained by a 2011 inquiry into phone-hacking at British tabloid The News of the World, a key Murdoch masthead.

Grilled in a parliamentary enquiry and presented with emails that appeared to show his knowledge that phone-hacking was taking place, James Murdoch denied reading the whole set of emails. He was reproached by a parliamentary committee for “willful blindness” and in the wake of the demise of the News of the World, moved to New York to help run his father’s media properties there.

His resignation is just the latest twist in the shifting fortunes of the Murdochs' media empire.

His announcement was followed by a statement from Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch which read: “We're grateful to James for his many years of service to the company. We wish him the very best in his future endeavors."

Yet despite cutting corporate ties with his family’s business, James Murdoch remains a beneficiary of his family’s trust, continuing to financially benefit from the profits of his billionaire father, and his news and information assets.

 

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