The influential and feared media mogul Rupert Murdoch promised Wednesday to remain “active”, handing over to his son Lachlan at the head of his empire, amid questions about the line of his Fox News channel for the next American presidential election.
A page in media history is turning: after decades at the head of a group present on three continents, marked by controversies and its influence on British, American and Australian political life, Rupert Murdoch, 92 years old, officially became “chairman emeritus” of News Corp on Wednesday, during a general meeting of shareholders broadcast online.
As announced on September 21, he passed the baton to the eldest of his sons, Lachlan, 52, reputed to be closer to the father’s conservative line than his brother James and his sisters Prudence and Elisabeth, who have distanced themselves in recent years. years with the family empire.
Rupert Murdoch will pass the torch of two entities to Lachlan.
On the one hand News Corp, present in publishing with HarperCollins and in the media in the United States (The Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones, New York Post), UK (The Sun, The Times) and Australia (The Australian), and which represents nearly ten billion dollars in turnover in 2023.
And on the other hand Fox Corporation, parent company of Fox News, the news channel at the forefront of the ideological battles of American conservatives, whose shareholders’ meeting is scheduled for Friday.
But after 70 years of career, Rupert Murdoch has warned that he will not go away completely.
“I hope to continue to play an active role in the company,” he assured.
Already, when announcing the transition, he told Fox employees that he would remain “involved every day in the debate of ideas”, would watch his channels with “a critical eye” and that we would see him again “at the office late on Friday”.
“There is no doubt that we should all be concerned about the suppression of debate by an intolerant elite who consider divergent opinions to be anathema,” insisted Wednesday the nonagenarian, whose media has been accused of encouraging the rise of populism in the Anglo-Saxon countries, symbolized by Brexit in the United Kingdom and the rise of Donald Trump to the presidency of the United States in 2016.
The family transition comes after a year of strong turbulence for Fox News, singled out for having fueled disinformation about COVID-19 and serving as a megaphone for the false thesis, dear to Donald Trump, of a rigged presidential election in 2020 for the benefit of Democrat Joe Biden.
In the end, the favorite channel of American conservatives had to pay the staggering sum of $787.5 million to the manufacturer of electronic voting machines Dominion Voting Systems, at the center of this false theory, to avoid an embarrassing lawsuit in defamation.
In the process, Fox News separated from its most virulent and popular presenter, Tucker Carlson, in addition to losing audience share, while remaining ahead of its competitors CNN and MSNBC.
The other columnists of the channel’s evening shows, like Laura Ingraham or Sean Hannity, continue to adopt a very hostile tone to Joe Biden, and repeat, like Donald Trump, that his trials are the result of a justice exploited by the Democrats.
But the former president shunned all the televised debates between candidates in the Republican primary, including the first two organized on Fox News.
“In terms of content and tone, they are very similar to what they have always been,” said Angelo Carusone, president of Media Matters for America, a left-leaning media monitoring organization that made Fox News one of his favorite targets.
“But they are no longer in the same place in the media environment and within the Republican Party. They are no longer as powerful and are much less influential,” he assures AFP, pointing to the rise of columnist Ben Shapiro’s Daily Wire site or the Rumble video platform.
Like the Republican Party, Fox News must still reckon with Donald Trump as the undisputed leader of the conservative camp, according to experts.
“They tried to push other candidates, but it didn’t work. They deprived Donald Trump of oxygen and air time a little. And yet, it continues to prosper,” adds Angelo Carusone.