Media

Rupert Murdoch: the “Populist” Plutocrat

October 18, 2010

Murdoch is also distrusted by many rightists who accuse him of vulgarizing sport, dumbing-down journalism by bringing “Page 3 birds” to the breakfast table, and of being motivated by an anti-British animus.

BSkyB’s board wants to reach a deal, so it almost certainly boils down to whether Business Secretary Vince Cable will agree the takeover can proceed. This will cause Cable political difficulties, because his party has been highly critical of Murdoch. He will probably issue an “intervention notice” to the regulator Ofcom to compel an examination of the potential impact, and the Office of Fair Trading and the European Commission may get involved. But the final decision will probably be Cable’s—and no one can say yet which way it will go. Although plenty of reasons have been adduced against the takeover, there are very few positive reasons for it to go ahead. But there is always the threat that a negative decision will unleash a barrage of bad publicity.

Murdoch is the world’s 117th-richest person, and such success always evokes suspicion and envy. Murdoch’s métier inevitably brings tired comparisons with Citizen Kane. In fact, Murdoch seems almost apolitical. His chief aim in lunching with Obama, Cameron, and the others seems simply to be on the best possible terms with whoever is likeliest to form the next government. In 2006 he hosted a fundraiser for Hillary Clinton. In 2008 he called Obama “a rock star,” and this year News Corporation gave $1 million to Republican causes.

His manifesto is simple—to continue to the last moment to build his empire with the same single-mindedness he has shown since his early days at The Sunday Times of Perth, Western Australia. At 79, having survived prostate cancer, he recently made acquisitions in Turkey and won a legal victory against Berlusconi’s Mediaset.

Even after he goes, he has taken steps to ensure that there will be Murdochs to carry the dynasty forward, just as his own media-mogul father once ensured that he would carry on the family name and business. His son James is Non-Executive Chairman of BSkyB and another son, Lachlan, is on News Corporation’s board. Beyond them are two more heirs born to his third wife Wendi Deng in 2001 and 2005. (I wonder what first attracted her to the billionaire?) There are innumerable ironies in Murdoch’s plutocratic progress, but perhaps the greatest is that this son of privilege whose journals have inveighed so often against privilege is so openly intent on privileging his own children. Whatever happens with BSkyB, it seems certain that the Murdoch name will resound around the media for years to come.

 

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