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Prodigal son returns as Murdoch sets succession plan

27 march 2014, 15:54
0
Lachlan Murdoch, son of Rupert Murdoch, 21st Century Fox CEO. ©Reuters/Rick Wilking
Lachlan Murdoch, son of Rupert Murdoch, 21st Century Fox CEO. ©Reuters/Rick Wilking

Rupert Murdoch's prodigal son is back, with key roles in the family's media entertainment empire in what appears to be a succession plan for the 83-year-old tycoon, AFP reports.

Lachlan Murdoch, 42, was named Wednesday as non-executive chairman at News Corp. and 21st Century Fox, the companies created when his father's conglomerate was split into publishing and entertainment arms.

Murdoch also promoted another of his sons, 41-year-old James, to be co-chief operating officer of 21st Century Fox. He is a member of the board of News Corp.

The moves put the eldest Murdoch scion into leadership roles at the companies built by his father, years after the eldest son abruptly resigned following a clash with other executives.

The changes appeared to put Lachlan Murdoch on a path to be the heir to the empire built by the Australian-born magnate.

"This is the penultimate step for Rupert," said Ken Doctor, media analyst with the research firm Outsell.

"In his inimitable style, he's set up what may be one last fraternal struggle for succession. Both boys can prove themselves anew, and the new split companies allows Rupert to test their mettle in new ways."

Doctor said he expects Rupert Murdoch to tend more to the news side of the companies as his sons "focus on the higher growth businesses in entertainment."

 

Damage from hacking scandal?

 

Dan Kennedy, professor of journalism at Northeastern University, said the new organization may have been influenced by the ongoing phone-hacking scandal in Britain involving Murdoch's newspapers.

"Given Rupert Murdoch's advanced age, you get the sense that any changes he makes now are likely to stick until he passes from the scene," Kennedy told AFP.

"That he would bring back Lachlan from exile may be an indication of the damage that was done to James as a result of the phone-hacking scandal."

Lachlan Murdoch had once been the favorite to take over from his father.

But that scenario vanished in 2005 when he abruptly quit his job as deputy chief operating officer.

In Wednesday's statement from News Corp, Rupert Murdoch said: "This appointment is a sign of confidence in the growth potential of News Corp and a recognition of Lachlan's entrepreneurial leadership and passion for news, digital media and sport."

In a separate statement from 21st Century Fox, the media tycoon said: "Lachlan is a strategic and talented executive with a rich knowledge of our businesses."

Rupert Murdoch remains chairman and chief executive officer of 21st Century Fox. He will also remain executive chairman of News Corp.

 

Less political tilt

 

Angelo Carusone, executive vice president at the watchdog group Media Matters for America, said the changes suggest a less political tilt for the Murdoch companies.

"Lachlan and James are more business creatures than political creatures," said Carusone, whose organization's mission is to correct "conservative misinformation."

"Rupert Murdoch is first and foremost a political creature. He sees himself as an old newspaperman, and has shown he is willing to sacrifice profits to promote a political agenda ... It's hard to see Lachlan as a political creature."

Carusone said he was surprised that James Murdoch was promoted amid an ongoing investigation and trials in Britain.

"It's unseemly to me to promote James at this time," he said. "James seems to have shed all of the stain from the hacking scandal with this appointment."

Rupert Murdoch, who is a naturalized US citizen, has six children from three marriages. He divorced third wife Wendy Deng last year.

Lachlan and James stem from Murdoch's marriage to journalist Anna Torv.

Last year, Murdoch split up his media empire into two distinct companies in a bid to "unlock value" by separating the fast-growing TV and film activities from the struggling publishing operations.

News Corp includes well-known newspapers like the Wall Street Journal and New York Post in the United States; The Times, The Sunday Times and The Sun in Britain; and The Australian. It also includes the Dow Jones news agency, Fox Sports Australia and the HarperCollins publishing house.

The 21st Century Fox group includes the Fox Hollywood studios and television entities, including the Fox News Channel.

The split was seen partly as a nod to shareholders angered by the damage inflicted by a phone hacking scandal in Britain, and partly because of troubles within the group's publishing arm.


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