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7am Podcast

Host of Schwartz Media podcast Rupert: The Last Mogul and contributor to The Saturday Paper, Paddy Manning, on what’s in store for the next era of the Murdoch empire.

Lachlan Murdoch’s first big move

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At the shareholders meetings for News Corp and Fox Corporation this month, for the first time, Rupert Murdoch wasn’t the star of the show. 

The meetings signified that the transition of power from the 92-year old mogul to his eldest son, Lachlan, is complete. 

So, how has Lachlan used his first moments of power? And what were Rupert Murdoch’s parting words to end his 70-year-long media career?

Today, host of Schwartz Media podcast Rupert: The Last Mogul and contributor to The Saturday Paper, Paddy Manning, on what’s in store for the next era of the Murdoch empire.

 

Socials: Stay in touch with us on Twitter and Instagram

Guest: Author of The Successor, Paddy Manning.

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[Theme Music Starts]
 
##ANGE:
From Schwartz Media, I’m Ange McCormack. This is *7am*. 
 
At shareholders’ meetings for News Corp and Fox Corporation this month, for the first time, Rupert Murdoch wasn’t the star of the show. 
 
The meetings signified that the transition of power from the 92-year old mogul to his eldest son, Lachlan, is complete. 
 
So, how has Lachlan used his first moments of power? And what were Rupert Murdoch’s parting words to end his 70-year-long media career?
 
Today, host of Schwartz Media podcast *Rupert: The Last Mogul* and contributor to *The Saturday Paper*, Paddy Manning, on what’s in store for the next era of the Murdoch empire.
 
It’s Monday, November 27.
 
[Theme Music Ends]
 
##ANGE: 
Patty. So last week, News Corp held its last ever investor meeting where Rupert Murdoch will play an active role. Can you tell me what happened?
 
##PADDY: 
Well, it was a fascinating meeting Ange it was all online, so you could only listen in to the webcast. 
 
##Audio excerpt – Speaker: 
“I will now introduce Mr. Rupert Murdoch, executive chair of News Corp.”
 
##Audio excerpt – Rupert Murdoch:
“Good morning.”
 
##PADDY: 
But it was an interesting meeting because that's a symbolic moment in Rupert's career. It was his last annual general meeting for News Corp and professional appearance as executive chairman of the company, which was the company that he took over 70 years ago and built up into the world's first global media empire. So it's kind of historic. 
 
##Audio excerpt – Rupert Murdoch:
“The world is facing multiple international crises to demand attention and understanding. After the barbaric attack on Israel…”
 
##PADDY: 
And to me, you know, Rupert, as the chair of these meetings, is quite feisty and they don't brook extended questioning. In fact, they've gone to great lengths to kind of limit questioning. But it was Rupert's last hurrah in some ways. And he did take the opportunity to spend a few minutes talking about his departure. 
 
##Audio excerpt – Rupert Murdoch:
“There is no doubt we should all be concerned about the suppression of debate by the intolerant elite who regard differing opinions as anathema.” 
 
##PADDY: 
So he had some sort of parting words, if you like. 
 
##Audio excerpt – Rupert Murdoch:
“And I have to certainly be fortunate. We are blessed to live in a country where dreams are not subject to regulation.”
 
##PADDY: 
You know, Rupert, he sounds every bit his age. Just listening to him. He speaks quite slowly. Just getting through the formal business of the meeting itself sounded like a bit of a strain for him. But he still has that characteristic turn of phrase and, you know, sort of in a defiant tone, Rupert said the best is yet to come for News Corporation. 
 
##Audio excerpt – Rupert Murdoch:
“The last three years have been the most profitable. Despite the complications of high interest rates and economic uncertainty. I am confident, that the best is yet to come.” 
 
##PADDY: 
At the end. He spoke about Lachlan, his son, who's taking over. 
 
##Audio excerpt – Rupert Murdoch:
“Like my father. I believe that humanity has a high destiny and Lachlan certainly shares that belief.
 
That sense of destiny is not just a blessing, but a responsibility.”
 
##PADDY: 
But Robert was also keen to mention that he still wanted to be involved in the company. He's not stepping away completely. He's continuing as Chairman emeritus. And then at the end he did let a few small shareholders ask questions. And one question was, did he have any regrets? 
 
##Audio excerpt – Speaker:
“Our next question. Rupert, congratulations on your remarkable 70 year career. What are your favourite News Corp memories and do you have any regrets?” 
 
##PADDY: 
His answer was very certain. Very few.
 
##Audio excerpt – Rupert Murdoch:
“Very few regrets. Thank you.” 
 
##PADDY: 
Quite notable that he didn't actually answer that bit about his favourite memories. Maybe he's forgotten them. Maybe he's forgotten all the highlights. 
 
Two days later, there was another annual meeting, this time for the other arm of the Murdoch media empire, Fox Corporation. And Rupert's presence there was very telling how the transition of power to Lachlan was complete. 
 
##ANGE: 
Right. So what happened there at this Fox meeting? Did Rupert speak at that too and what did we learn from what happened there? 
 
##PADDY: 
Well, not at all. He didn't say a word. And it's the first Fox Corp AGM where Rupert was not the centre of attention. In fact, he was watching from the audience. And in classic, you know Fox style, they paid tribute to Rupert with a five minute long video of his life, his extraordinary 70 year career. 
 
##Audio excerpt – Speaker:
“His life's work shaped the world we know today, whether in film, television, internet or print, we are informing, entertaining and inspiring people around the world.” 
 
##PADDY: 
And Lachlan, of course, made a big deal of thanking his father. 
 
##Audio excerpt – Lachlan Murdoch: 
“Our dad on behalf of the Fox Board of directors and the leadership team and all the shareholders who have benefited from your hard work. We thank you for your vision, your insatiable curiosity.”
 
##PADDY: 
Lachlan also made a point of saying, as Rupert had done in the NewsCorp meeting, that Rupert wasn't backing away into the shadows. He would still be hands on and provide, quote, counsel and contribution. 
 
##Audio excerpt – Lachlan Murdoch: 
“The first matter to be acted upon by the stockholders is Proposal One, the election of directors. The board has nominated Tony Abbott.” 
 
##PADDY: 
For Australians, a significant moment was Tony Abbott's official elevation to Fox's board approved by shareholders at the meeting. 
 
##Audio excerpt – Lachlan Murdoch: 
“If elected, these director nominees will each serve a one year term expiring as the 2024 annual meeting.” 
 
##PADDY: 
There's always been an Australian as one of the independent non-executive directors that Fox and Tony Abbott is a very close friend of Lachlan Murdoch and will now serve as the kind of notional Australian representative and get more than half of $1 million dollars a year to do it, by the way. 
 
And after paying that tribute to his father, Lachlan pretty quickly got down to business and the formal agenda for the meeting. 
 
##ANGE: 
Right, and so at these two meetings, Lachlan Murdoch was kind of centre stage and that's how it will be from now on. Both Murdoch media companies, which has been a long time coming this moment, what state has Rupert left those companies to him in? 
 
##PADDY: 
Well, you'd have to say both companies have got structural challenges, and Fox Corporation in particular, it's under a cloud, if you like, because they have this year had to pay a record $787 million dollar settlement to the voting machine manufacturer Dominion. As part of the fallout from the Trump campaign's claims in 2020 that the election was stolen from them. 
 
And Fox aired on multiple occasions on Fox News claims that were baseless, that Dominion voting machines had contributed to the election being stolen from Donald Trump, shaving votes off to off to Biden. 
 
And there's another voting machine manufacturer that's got an even bigger claim of 2.7 billion US dollars Smartmatic, that is still to be resolved. It's a similar claim. It's going to be heard in court in a different jurisdiction in New York in 2025. But there could be another huge damages payout or settlement as a result of that litigation. 
 
And there are a bunch of other cases related to the big like coverage that are also in the works, including from some shareholders. 
 
So there was a question at the Fox Corporation meeting about what the company was doing to make sure there was no recurrence of the kind of payout that we saw with Dominion. So there was one question on that, but it sort of does colour you know, this moment as Rupert steps down that all of this litigation is still on foot. 
 
And of course, all of that is happening in the context of an incredible 2024 election cycle where, you know, democracy really is at stake in the United States. 
 
There is no doubt that Rupert, he is leaving some difficult, thorny issues for Lachlan to resolve. And I think we've already seen Lachlan show that he is ready to take charge and he's not going to be the leader that his father was. He's going to be his own person.
 
##ANGE: 
After the break – The big first move Lachlan made after Rupert stepped down from his media empire.
 
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##ANGE: 
So Paddy, Rupert's son, Lachlan, is now in charge of the Murdoch empire. He's only newly in the role. But how has he used his first moments of power to show us what his era is going to be about? 
 
##PADDY: 
Well, it's interesting Ange, because Lachlan has always been described as the dutiful son, even though, you know, he has had his moments. Back in 2005, he quit the empire, although he stayed on the board of News Corp. But he did quit the Empire, walked out and he was in Australia for a decade then doing his own thing. 
 
But he has always been kind of considered the most dutiful son. And back in the 90s, Rupert certainly talked about him as the favoured successor as his eldest son. He was the first among equals was the quote that Rupert used. And he's kept his kind of focus on the business. He's quite different to his father in that he's not the all powerful, highly interventionist editor in chief figure. He doesn't see that as his role. And he's not quite the same kind of kingmaker. Whereas Rupert has always been seen as a powerbroker behind the scenes. 
 
But interestingly, straight after these AGMs, he made a very public display of his own leadership style. He personally went to Ukraine to meet with President Volodymyr Zelensky and travelled with Fox journalist Benjamin Hall and Jerome Starkey, who is the defence reporter for The Sun. 
 
##Audio excerpt – Speaker:
“Tonight we have a very special story. Correspondent Benjamin Hall returns to Ukraine 20 months after he was seriously injured there while covering the war with Russia. Also on the trip, executive chairman and CEO of Fox Corp, Lachlan Murdoch. Benjy Hall spoke exclusively with Ukrainian President Volodymyr.”
 
##PADDY: 
Quite significant, by the way. He took one journalist from each company with him into that meeting at the invitation of Zelensky. It sent a very strong statement of support for Ukraine, not only to everyone at Fox News and elsewhere in the Murdoch media empire, but also to that extreme wing of the Republican Party that is opposing further US support for Ukraine's war against Russia. 
 
So it's a new direction from Lachlan and it's hard to think of a similar kind of occasion that Rupert had ever done, in his prime Rupert would have been up to his neck in kind of congressional intrigue, his way of handling the, you know, Republican debate about support for Ukraine would have been to get on the phone and call the powerbrokers himself. 
 
Lachlan's approach is quite different. He goes to Kyiv to show his support by meeting with Zelensky. And then, you know, both Fox and the Sun and The New York Post follow up with exclusive stories that come out of the interviews that resulted. 
 
##ANGE: 
Hmm. It's interesting that Lachlan is communicating in a different way to Rupert, you know, using these images and public displays to show his position. But what does going to Ukraine tell us about the politics of the Murdoch media empire under Lachlan? 
 
##PADDY: 
Well, what it shows is that, you know, I mean, we have seen fringe Republicans and particularly those associated with QAnon and MAGA, that are cynical about Zelensky in Ukraine and lobbying in Congress to vote against further funding for the war. Some have even flirted with pro-Putin rhetoric and so have Fox News anchors in the past, like Tucker Carlson, who Lachlan's now earlier this year fired his biggest anchor. Quite significant. 
 
And it shows that Lachlan is avowedly non-partisan. But all of these donations have been on the Republican side of politics, and he is shaping up as a supporter. I think of more of your establishment Republicans rather than the extreme election denying wing in the party, and that is quite significant. 
 
I think it's a bit too early to tell whether there's a sense that perhaps Fox News is coming back under Lachlan from some of the far right controversial positions, particularly embraced by Tucker Carlson towards something more of the centre right, which has been its traditional kind of orientation. 
 
And that comes, of course, as the Republican primaries heading up and Fox News will play a huge role in how that pans out. Although both Rupert and Lachlan and plenty in the media, the Murdoch media have been trying to move on from Trump. Trump remains the front runner, and you would have to assume that if he does clinch the Republican nomination, despite his, you know, many legal challenges and potentially even being in jail, you would still imagine that Fox News would have no alternative but to support Trump if he wins the GOP nomination. 
 
##ANGE: 
Hmm. And I suppose underlining all of this is the question of how influential the Murdoch empire will be in the future. You know, Rupert spoke in that meeting we were talking about before about how optimistic he was and that the best years for his companies are ahead of them. But I'm wondering if that's really true. And will Lachlan wield as much influence as his father did? 
 
##PADDY: 
Yeah. Well, and I mean, I think if you take a big historical view of the Murdoch media empire, that actually the peak came quite some time ago. I think it was in the early years of this century when the company had, you know, spanned five continents and reached three quarters of the world's population. And, you know, the Murdoch media missed the boat on on the growth explosion of social media that was to come and Facebook and Google took over. 
 
And then you had the phone hacking crisis that splits the empire. And then you have the culmination of all of this. Is Rupert selling out. In some ways, you could view it as a capitulation. He sells the bulk of the media empire to Disney for $71 billion dollars in 2019. 
 
And so what you have now is a much smaller Murdoch media empire, which is left, and it's split between Fox and News Corp combined, you know, with just under $30 billion dollars US compared with, you know, the other media giants. That's actually a small player although it has a huge influence still. But it's not the same as it was 20 years ago. 
 
So, you know, can they pay television business and the newspaper business continue for another half century or for another century? I think it's hard to imagine.
 
And as I say, Lachlan is a different leader than his father. I'm not sure that he aspires to be the arch media mogul and kingmaker that his father was. But you know perhaps his leadership style is evolving. And we've seen, you know, with that visit to Zelensky, perhaps a sign of things to come. It could be that we are about to see a kind of side of Lachlan that we haven't seen until now. 
 
##ANGE: 
Patty, thanks so much for your time today. 
 
##PADDY: 
Thank you Ange.
 
##ANGE: 
You can listen to Paddy Manning’s podcast series on Rupert Murdoch and his media empire, called *Rupert: The Last Mogul* – in its own podcast feed, wherever you get your podcasts.
 
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##ANGE: 
Also in the news today…
 
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture has called for a ‘full investigation’ into the Australian immigration detention system and the contractors that are used to maintain it, after what she described as ‘totally unacceptable’ reports of violence, drug trafficking and even the death of a detainee.
 
The revelations were exposed by The Age Newspaper after a High Court decision found the current indefinite detention regime to be unlawful.
 
And…
 
As the ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war enters its fourth day, the release of prisoners and hostages continues.
 
A spokesperson for Qatar’s foreign ministry announced on Sunday that an additional 13 Israeli hostages and 7 foreign nationals held in Gaza were to be released in exchange for 39 Palestinian civilian prisoners held by Israel.
 
I’m Ange McCormack. This is *7am*. We’ll be back again tomorrow.
 
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