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Lachlan Murdoch, the choice of continuity

By AFP - Sep 23,2023 - Last updated at Sep 23,2023

People walk by the News Corp. headquarters in midtown Manhattan on Thursday in New York City (AFP photo)

NEW YORK — Lachlan Murdoch, the heir of the sprawling media empire whose politics skew as conservative as his father Rupert's, is set to take over the family business in November, the choice of continuity.

Lachlan is already president of Fox Corporation, parent company of the Fox News cable television channel, and was long the favourite against his brother James to succeed the family patriarch.

"Lachlan is reportedly the more conservative son of the two, James has more progressive politics," said Reece Peck, New York University professor and author of "Fox Populism", a book about the channel, which is a favourite among American conservatives and the crown jewel of the Murdoch empire.

As the next US presidential election looms — a contest that promises to be a rollercoaster, with Donald Trump leading as the Republican favourite despite multiple indictments — "it would make sense" to choose Lachlan Murdoch, said Peck.

Fox likely aims to "keep their audience strategy, which is an audience that's hungry for conservative partisan content", the analyst told AFP.

"At the end of the day, Fox is a victim of its own success — it cultivated this demand for partisan conservative content," Peck said.

"And now it has this fully formed market and audience that wants that."


Fox Corporation CEO 


At 52, Lachlan Murdoch appeared the natural successor ahead of his adult siblings James, Prudence and Elisabeth.

Even before his appointment announced Thursday, Lachlan was already the CEO of Fox Corporation, a position he's held since 2019, and chairman of News Corp., the global publishing and media group with a major presence in North America, Australia and Britain.

Under the scion's leadership, Fox Corporation notably purchased Tubi — the free streaming platform with ads, which has allowed Fox to keep its advertising revenue level — for $440 million in 2020.

But recent years were also rife with controversy: Lachlan had an operational role in 2020 during the presidential election, when Fox News both echoed and espoused false allegations of a rigged vote robbing Trump of a second White House term.

The theory culminated in the violent invasion of the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, when backers of the former president attempted to stage an insurrection.

In April, Fox News agreed to pay a $787.5 million settlement in a defamation case brought by voting machine maker Dominion. It alleged that the network knowingly and repeatedly promoted Trump's false narrative that the voting machines were part of a conspiracy to rob him of victory against Joe Biden.

Up and down 


Lachlan Murdoch was born in 1971 in London but grew up in the United States, where he attended elite schools in Colorado's Aspen and in New York.

With looks to match his prep-school pedigree, he graduated from the Ivy League's Princeton University where he studied philosophy.

But his journey within the family company was rocky.

His father gave him an early leg up by entrusting Lachlan with newspapers in Australia, a path to rise up within News Corp.

The first-born son encouraged investments in the Australian telecoms group One. Tel, which eventually went bankrupt, as well as in a digital real estate advertising company, REA Group, which is now flourishing.

While based in the United States, Lachlan splintered off from News Corp in 2005, a departure precipitated by quarrels with the late Roger Ailes, who was an ultra-conservative power player at Fox News.

Lachlan retreated to Australia, where he still often resides, with his wife Sarah, a model and TV presenter with whom he has three children.

During this period he founded the investment company Illyria Pty.

The eldest boy returned a decade later at the request of his magnate father, as the Murdoch empire was faltering over the infamous phone hacking scandal involving the now-defunct British tabloid News of the World.

Lachlan took over as head of Fox Corporation in 2019, though the empire was thinned after the sale of 21st Century Fox, including studios and catalog of films, to Disney for $66 billion.

Lachlan's rise comes with the departure of his brother James, who resigned from News Corp in July 2020 and who has criticised editorial and strategic decisions, particularly at Fox News.

But even if Lachlan Murdoch takes charge, the succession battle isn't finished.

Many observers have noted that the eventual death of the patriarch will reshuffle the deck, because each of Rupert's first four children will have equal voting rights within the company.

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