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Murdoch and News Corp

Overview

This profile considers Rupert Murdoch and the News group.


It covers -

  • introduction
  • history
  • holdings
  • the family
  • studies

There are supplementary profiles on New Zealand's Independent Newspapers Ltd (INL), on the Herald & Weekly Times (H&WT) group and on 20th Century Fox and the Fox Network.

Introduction

News Corporation is one of the three largest international media groups, operating in most sectors and most continents.

Its main site includes the group's annual report and information about its global holdings. In 2000 the group had assets of around US$36 billion and annual revenue of US$14 billion. At the beginning of 2003 assets were around US$42 billion, with revenues of US$16 billion. By April 2004 some 75% of revenue was attributable to operations in the US. At that time News announced plans to shift its corporate domicile from Australia to the US (which would facilitate access to capital) and to buy the Murdoch family's controlling stake in Queensland Press, which was partly owned by News and had a substantial stake in News.

The announcement followed agreement by News in 2003 to acquire 34% of Hughes Electronics for US$6.6 billion, buying GM’s 19.9% stake in Hughes and a further 14.1% from other Hughes shareholders. That 34% stake was to be transferred to Fox Entertainment Group, Inc, an 80.6%-owned News subsidiary, increasing News Corp.'s equity interest in FEG to approximately 82%. The Hughes acquisition includes satellite broadcaster DIRECTV (over 11 million subscribers in the US), an 81% equity holding in satellite operator PanAmSat and Hughes Network Systems, the world's leading provider of broadband satellite network solutions.

News announced disposal to Fairfax of its 50% stake in New Zealand's Independent Newspapers Ltd (INL), a deal that added 80 newspaper and magazine titles to Fairfax's operations, including The Dominion Post,The Press, Sunday News, The Sunday Star-Times, seven regional dailies, 61 community publications, 13 magazine titles, commercial printing interests and the Gordon & Gotch distribution business in New Zealand.

In 2005 it sold the TSL Education division (inc Times Educational Supplement, Times Higher Education Supplement and Nursery World) to Exponent Private Equity for £235 million. That unit had pre-tax profits of £23m on sales of £56m in 2004.

In December 2006 News agreed to buy out Liberty's stake in that company in exchange for sale to Liberty of News' 39% stake in DirecTV, US$550 million cash and other assets (with an aggregate value of US$11 billion). That transaction will allow both sides to avoid paying taxes and represent a gain of around US$5 billion on News' investment in DirecTV. The expectation was that News Corporation will retire Liberty's 19% voting stake in a major share buyback that will increase the Murdoch family's stake to around 36%.

News history

A chronology of the group's development is here.

News holdings

An indication of News holdings is here.

They encompass film production and distribution, television production and broadcasting, advertising, newspaper and magazine publishing, book publishing, football teams and other sports ownership, multimedia, information technology and music publishing.

At various times the group has also included substantial pastoral, bauxite mining, airline and aircraft leasing interests, reflecting opportunistic investment and acquisition of groups such as Ansett that included media assets.

The family

George Munster's A Paper Prince (Melbourne: Viking 1985), Neil Chenoweth's Virtual Murdoch: Reality Wars on the Information Highway (London: Secker & Warburg 2001) and Bruce Page's The Murdoch Archipelago (New York: Simon & Schuster 2003) are arguably the most perceptive biographies of Rupert Murdoch. They are more insightful - or merely less respectful - than Murdoch (London: Chatto & Windus 1992) by the otherwise excellent William Shawcross.

Munster's observation, courtesy of former Murdoch cohort Richard Searby, that Murdoch is a fidget, a man going for a random walk with a line (and his own money, unlike many of the moguls), holds true. In a June 2002 FT interview Murdoch commented that

"We start with the written word. Then we get to TV, originally with the idea that it will protect the advertising base and it then progresses into a medium of its own with news, programmes and ideas. You then look at TV and you say: 'Look, we don't want to just buy programmes from a Hollywood studio, we'd better have one.' Then comes the issue of people who are going to deliver your programmes. Cable is consolidating ... Instead of having 20 gatekeepers, you are going to have three or four. For content providers, that is very bad news. So, you try to protect yourself in having some distribution power."

Richard Stott, in criticising Page's biography in 2003, commented that Murdoch

"is shown to be manipulative, devious, bullying, ruthless and unscrupulous. But that just makes him a newspaper proprietor. What makes him special is that he isn't interested in the usual playthings of newspaper owners such as Beaverbrook, Northcliffe and William Randolph Hearst, namely political power for mischievous personal ends. For him it is the currency to secure a bigger and better deal or to consolidate current ones."

Whether the dynasty will last beyond the third generation is another question altogether. Wendy Rohm's The Murdoch Mission: The Digital Transformation of A Media Empire (New York: Wiley 2001) appears to have high hopes for Rupert's kids, Paul Barry's Rich Kids (Sydney: Bantam 2002) more incisive study of the One.Tel debacle is less positive.

An insight - more of a squint - into the family dynamics is provided by John Monks' soft-focus biography Elizabeth Murdoch (Sydney: Pan 1995) of Rupert's mum.

As we have suggested in the more detailed profile on the Heralfd & Weekly Times group, father Sir Keith Murdoch has yet to receive the biography that he deserves. Scholars are perforce reliant on the entry in volume 10 of the Australian Dictionary of Biography (Melbourne: Melbourne Uni Press), the reverential Keith Murdoch: Founder of a Media Empire (Sydney: HarperCollins 2003) by RM Younger and the shorter In Search of Keith Murdoch (Macmillan: South Melbourne 1980) by Desmond Zwar.

Studies

Murdoch-watching has become a minor industry. Among the more entertaining products are the batch from News executives, including Full Disclosure (London: Macmillan 1996) by former Economist and Sunday Times editor Andrew Neil; Good Times, Bad Times (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson 1983) by former editor Harold Evans and the less splenetic Sundry Times (London: John Murray 1986) by former editor Harold Giles.

There is a more positive account in Dennis Hamilton's Editor-in-Chief: Fleet Street Memoirs (London: Hamish Hamilton 1989), Chance Governs All (London: Macmillan 2001) by Marmaduke Hussey and The Pearl of Days: An Intimate Memoir of The Sunday Times 1822-1972 (London: Hamish Hamilton 1972) by Harold Hobson, Phillip Knightley & Leonard Russell.

Among journalistic bios we have read but don't recommend Thomas Kiernan's bracing Citizen Murdoch (New York: Dodd Mead 1986), the superficial Murdoch (London: Piatkus 1989) by Jerome Tuccille and the doom-&-gloom Murdoch: The Decline of An Empire (London: Macdonald 1991) by Richard Belfield, Christopher Hird & Sharon Kelly: the show isn't over until the fat lady (or corporate receiver) sings.

Barefaced Cheek: Rupert Murdoch (London: Hodder & Stoughton 1983) is a glib effort by Michael Leapman, better known for his more interesting Treachery: The Power Struggle at TV AM (Unwin Hyman, London 1989), an account of gameplaying by David Frost, Murdoch, Bruce Gyngell and others. Rupert Murdoch: A Business Biography (London: Angus & Robertson 1976) by Simon Regan has an in-house flavour midway through Murdoch's colonisation of the UK.

Tabloid Baby: An Uncensored Account of Revolution That Gave Birth to 21st Century Television News Broadcasting (New York: Celebrity Books 1999) by Burt Kearns is a tabloid-flavoured expose of the birth of the Fox television network, now the fourth member of the 'Big Three' national networks in the US.

It replaces Alex Block's Outfoxed: Marvin Davis, Rupert Murdoch, Joan Rivers & the Inside Story of America's 4th Television Network (New York: St Martins 1990). That was news but is now heading, like most tabloids, to fish & chip wrapper status. Matthew Horsman's Sky High (London: Orion 1998) is a more positive account of BSkyB, the Murdoch-dominated satellite broadcaster, than Dished! The Rise and Fall of the British Satellite Broadcasting (London: Simon & Schuster 1991) by Peter Chippindale & Suzanne Franks.

Stuart Crainer's Business the Rupert Murdoch Way: 10 Secrets of the World's Greatest Dealmaker (Oxford: Capstone 1999) is disappointing, consistent with others in the series such as Business the Bill Gates Way (one secret of Bill = "Be True To Yourself").

Save your money and buy Jock Given's The Death of Broadcasting (Sydney: Uni of NSW Press 1999). Trevor Barr's thoughtful Newmedia.com.au: The Changing Face of Australia's Media and Communications (St Leonards: Allen & Unwin 2000) is essential reading in understanding the interaction between politicians, bureaucrats, business, consumers and technology.

AFR journalist Mark Westfield offers a blow by blow account of Foxtel and News' local pay television adventures in The Gatekeepers: The Global Media Battle to control Australia's Pay TV (Annandale: Pluto Press 2000). There's a dry account of Foxtel in Cento Veljanovski's 72 page IPA paper (PDF) on Pay TV in Australia: Markets & Mergers. Both should be read in conjunction with Vertical Integration in Cable Television (Cambridge: MIT Press 1997) by David Waterman & Andrew Weiss.

Murdoch will remain of significance as the catalyst for restructuring Fleet Street (with just a little help from his friends Margaret Thatcher and the electricians union). As a starting point consult Timothy Marjoribank's News Corporation, Technology & the Workplace: Global Strategies, Local Change (Cambridge: Cambridge Uni Press 2000).

Charles Wintour's The Rise & Fall of Fleet Street (Hutchinson: London 1989) and The Market For Glory (London: Faber 1986) by Simon Jenkins offer perspectives on 'old media' in the UK, further explored in the Fleet Street page.

For the Sun see Stick It Up Your Punter: The Uncut Story of the Sun Newspaper (London: Simon & Schuster 1999) by Peter Chippindale & Chris Horrie. There is an elegant account of the TLS in Critical Times: The History of the Times Literary Supplement (New York: HarperCollins 2001) by Derwent May. For the New York Post ('headless body in topless bar'), the Star and trash-tv show Hard Copy see Jeannette Walls' Dish: How Gossip became the News and the News became just another Show (New York: Perennial 2000), discussed here.

Andrew Harris' Selling Hitler (London: Faber 1987), about the 'Hitler Diaries' fiasco, is a romp. All in all, Murdoch comes out of that hoax looking quite astute, which is more than can be said for patricians and experts such as Hugh Trevor-Roper and William Rees-Mogg.

For HarperCollins see Eugene Exman's The Brothers Harper: a unique publishing partnership and its impact upon the cultural life of America from 1817 to 1853 (New York: Harper & Row 1965), David Keir's The House of Collins (London: Collins 1952) and works such as John Tebbel's four volume A History of Book Publishing In America (New York: Oxford Uni Press 1972-81) or Thomas Whiteside's The Blockbuster Complex: Conglomerates, Show Business & Book Publishing (Middletown: Wesleyan Uni Press 1981).

For Ansett see Ansett: The Collapse (South Melbourne: Lothian 2002) by Geoff Easdown & Peter Wilms. Media Mayhem: Playing with the Big Boys in Media (Melbourne: Brolga 2005) by former H&WT chief executive John D'Arcy offers insights on the Herald & Weekly Times takeover.