Rupert Murdoch

John Gapper

With the Leveson report into the UK press published, the tectonic plates are shifting inside Rupert Murdoch’s empire, with a series of interlocking reshuffles underway. The outsider remains Elisabeth Murdoch.

The restructuring, in which Robert Thomson is to become chief executive of the new News Corp publishing company, with Gerard Baker succeeding him as editor-in-chief of the Wall Street Journal, is already causing ructions. Tom Mockridge has resigned as chief executive of News International, the UK publishing arm.

All this coincides with a lengthy profile in The New Yorker of Elisabeth Murdoch, Mr Murdoch’s daughter by his second marriage, who fell out with her brother James over the phone hacking affair. In Ken Auletta’s article, News Corp resembles Dombey and Son, the Charles Dickens novel. Read more

Andrew Hill

Mark Thompson – image by Getty

I don’t know Mark Thompson, outgoing director-general of the BBC, but I have my doubts about how well his long career at Britain’s public-service broadcaster – interrupted by just two years at commercial Channel 4 – will equip him to run the New York Times Co.

Critically, his new employer has to generate its own revenues, rather than simply pulling money in from a mandatory television licence fee and then spending it.

Management is management, whether in the public or private sector. Mr Thompson is obviously talented and will arrive in Manhattan battle-hardened, not only from his fights with the UK government, and the unions, but from regular set-tos with the New York Times’ biggest rival, Rupert Murdoch, and his clan. Co-blogger and former FT media correspondent John Gapper – currently on holiday – has tweeted that Mr Thompson is “a good choice for the NYT – former hack, strategic, tough, down-to-earth. Used to opinionated employees and controversy” and “also experienced in running a media icon that thinks a lot of itself – mostly justifiably, sometimes not”. Read more

Andrew Hill

Rupert Murdoch

Rupert Murdoch

It will be a shame if bitter and partisan debate over whether Rupert Murdoch is “a fit person to exercise the stewardship of a major international company” obscures the more important conclusion of the UK parliament’s culture, media and sport committee on phone-hacking: that he and his son James were wilfully blind to what was going on.

Whether BSkyB, controlled by the Murdoch-owned News Corp, is a “fit and proper” owner of a broadcasting licence is a question for Ofcom, the regulator, which has now entered an “evidence-gathering” phase of its probe.

But as even the dissenting members of the committee said on Tuesday, if the “fit person” line had been omitted from the report, they would have voted unanimously to back it, including the charge that the Murdochs oversaw a culture of wilful blindness. Read more

John Gapper

The Rupert Murdoch on the witness stand for day two of his evidence to the Leveson inquiry was less impressive than the Murdoch of day one.

After his halting testimony to a House of Commons last July, he was refreshingly on form on Wednesday – coming out punching with a display of crisp, sharp replies, even if quite a few were implausible (as I discussed in my column).

Matthew Engel summarised his performance nicely in the FT:

Ga-ga? Rupert? Eyes bright, sharp as a tack – and in control of the situation. “I hope I’m like that at 81,” said a young man in the public gallery. Normally a barrister on his feet cuts an intimidatory figure when cross-examining a seated witness. This time Mr Jay looked like a supplicant backing away from the boss’s desk.

But Mr Murdoch sounded slower and more tired on Thursday, hesitating longer over his replies and sometimes rambling. His reply to a question about his suggestions for media regulation went on a long time and had various digressions. Read more

Andrew Hill

Warren Buffett’s early stage prostate cancer is so commonplace and treatable that you might legitimately ask whether it was worth declaring. But there is no question that it was better for Berkshire Hathaway’s chairman to make his statement than to conceal the condition.

While there are good reasons to respect the privacy of patients, Apple’s failure to detail Steve Jobs’ condition during his leave of absence for health reasons in 2009 spread unnecessary uncertainty about the future of the company and its succession planning.

If Mr Buffett had any doubts about whether to make his statement, he could have asked a fellow senior citizen: Rupert Murdoch. Read more

By Ben Fenton

In an extended Vanity Fair piece that people who know the Murdoch family say is “horrifying in its level of detail” and “strikingly accurate in most respects”, Sarah Ellison has laid out how the phone hacking scandal at one of News Corp’s UK newspapers derailed dynastic plans for the media group.

One element of a long history – the claim that the four eldest Murdoch siblings had discussed the “succession” to their father as chairman and CEO with a “family counsellor” or psychologist – stood out, both for being hard to picture and for what it says about how little other shareholders views appear to enter into the Murdoch family considerations on succession planning. (Rupert Murdoch and the elder four of his six children control 38 per cent of voting shares, but own only 12 per cent of the total equity). Read more

Andrew Hill

At July’s parliamentary hearings into phone-hacking at the News of the World, Liberal Democrat MP Adrian Sanders wound up his line of questioning by asking James Murdoch if he was “familiar with the term ‘wilful blindness’”.

Mr Murdoch, now deputy chief operating officer at News Corp and head of its international business, asked Mr Sanders to elaborate, which he did:

It is a term that came up in the Enron scandal. Wilful blindness is a legal term. It states that if there is knowledge that you could have had and should have had, but chose not to have, you are still responsible.

 Read more

John Gapper

The Murdoch phone hacking affair has made me reflect further on how powerful people who may have broken the law get treated in various jurisdictions – and revisit the case of Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

I wrote a column in the FT earlier this month defending the treatment of Mr Strauss-Kahn (or DSK, as he is known) at the hands of the New York judicial system. I argued that the police and prosecutors had acted correctly in arresting him promptly on charges of sexual assault, and later disclosing weakness in the evidence.

That did not go down very well with a lot of readers – here is a letter criticising my piece that was printed in the FT. However, I think that the Murdoch affair, and the collusion it has revealed among British politicians, media figures and the police make the New York authorities look even better by comparison. Read more