Thursday, June 29, 2006

Rupert bare

Rupert Murdoch, 75, dropped a heavy hint today that he might throw his significant weight behind David Cameron’s Tories in the next UK election. He told his own Australian newspaper "We would like to see...a stand-off between Brown and Cameron so we can decide which of those most coincides with our views." The move has implications; Murdoch's The Sun has backed every British election winner since 1979.

News Corporation is one of the three largest international media groups, operating across most sectors in every continent. Its total assets as of March 31, 2006 was US$55 billion and has total annual revenues of approximately US$25 billion. Murdoch has massive influence in the British electoral system controlling the broadsheets The Times and the Sunday Times and the tabloids The Sun and the News of the World and the cable television station BSkyB with its 24 hour Sky News service.

Murdoch publishes 175 newspapers, including the New York Post. Other American properties he owns are Twentieth Century Fox, Fox Network (including Fox News), and 35 TV stations that reach more than 40% of the country. In a 2006 poll conducted by Reuters and the BBC, Fox News was named as the most trusted news source in the US with 11% of the vote. Which is a scary statistic if Robert Greenwald’s film “Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism” is to be believed. Fox News has been heavily criticised for its right-wing bias with one voice on Outfoxed saying it was “a 24 by 7 paid commercial for the Republican Party”. It was the first station to call the 2000 presidential election in George W Bush’s favour and wore its pro-American stance proudly during the Iraq campaign.

Rupert Murdoch was born in Melbourne in 1931. His father Keith was one of the legendary figures in Australian journalism. Keith Murdoch got permission to travel to Anzac Cove in August 1915. His report on the mismanagement of the campaign convinced British Prime Minister Herbert Asquith that Gallipoli was a failure. Back in Australia, Keith became a powerhouse when he managed the Herald and Weekly Times Limited newspaper stablein Melbourne. He gained a reputation as a kingmaker whose imprimatur could decide elections. He used this power to stop the newly fledged ABC radio from forming an effective news desk until after World War II. Keith died suddenly in 1952. At the time young Rupert was studying in Oxford. He returned to Melbourne, aged 21, to step into his father’s massive shoes.

His first real job was control of the Adelaide News. He quickly established himself as a dynamic media proprietor and added a string of publications to his stable. His most significant early success was the purchase of the Daily Mirror which gave him a toehold in Sydney, the largest market. In 1964, he created Australia’s first national newspaper, The Australian. This broadsheet gave Murdoch a new respectability.

Murdoch was never just a newspaper man. He bought Festival Records as early as 1961 and he made money from it. It is now merged with Mushroom records under Murdoch ownership. His efforts to get into Australian TV were stymied by cross-media ownership laws. In Paul Keating’s words, Murdoch’s Australian empire would always see him be a Prince of Print rather than a Queen of the Screen.

By the late 1960s, Murdoch was starting to look abroad to further his ambitions. His family moved to Britain and in 1969 he made his first Fleet St purchase. He bought the Sunday newspaper The News of the World beating Robert Maxwell in an acrimonious year-long struggle. That same year he bought an ailing daily paper from the Mirror Group called The Sun. Murdoch immediately relaunched the newspaper as a tabloid, and ran The Sun and the News of the World as sister papers. They used the same printing presses and were managed by the same senior executive team. In 1970 The Sun introduced the concept of the Page Three girl. By 1978 it had replaced the Daily Mirror as Britain’s biggest selling paper. In 1986 Murdoch moved the entire London operation to Wapping where he defeated a journalists strike after a bitter one year struggle. From the papers’ profits, he moved into TV with the Sky satellite channel.

In the early 1970s, he made his first foray into the US market. He bought the Texan San Antonio news in 1973 and the 12th largest circulation paper in the US, the New York Post, in 1976. In 1985, Murdoch became a naturalised citizen to satisfy the legal requirement that only United States citizens could own American television stations. That same year he paid $250 million to buy 20th Century Fox movie studio. His company News Corp then agreed to pay $1.55 billion to acquire independent television stations in six major media markets. These first six stations, broadcasting to 22 percent of the US, became known as the Fox Television Stations Group. Fox was launched in 1986, using the combined resources of the movie studio and new stations. It was broadcast to 96 stations reaching more than 80 percent of the nation's households.

The scale of his empire grew exponential in the nineties. In Asia he is pinning his hopes on Star TV. In 2003, Rupert Murdoch told a congressional panel that his use of "political influence in our newspapers or television" is "nonsense." But critics have suggested that a close look at the record shows Murdoch has imprinted his neoconservative agenda throughout his media empire.

Forbes Magazine currently list Murdoch as the 28th richest person in the world with a personal fortune of $5 billion. Unlike Warren Buffett, Murdoch has no plans to give it all away. A report in today’s Australian says he would prefer to "make a difference" through the social and political influence afforded by his international media empire. "Our assets are not there for the money, our assets are there to try and make a difference as a media company," he said.

In other words, his voracious appetite for acquiring shiny new things is showing no signs of slowing down. The only question now is who will inherit the empire. Second son James Murdoch is now favourite after eldest son Lachlan surprisingly resigned from his executive positions at News Corporation in 2005. James is a director at BSkyB and is likely to lead the drive further into internet and other new media.

For now, Rupert remains healthy and at the reins of control. His entry on MySpace, the online community he bought for $580 million in 2005, describes him as the "Dirty Digger". Thus he reclaims the insult that Auberon Waugh called him in Private Eye.

Lets leave the most pertinent details of Rupert to his myspace entry:
Gender: Male
Status: Married
Age: 74
Sign: Virgo

Virgo: The Mutable Earth sign associated with precision and detail--reading the fine print. Ah, now it makes sense why Murdoch is not a man to mess with when it comes to contracts!

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