Prodigal son Lachlan Murdoch gets key role in empire

NEW YORK (TIP): Rupert Murdoch’s prodigal son Lachlan is back, with key roles in the tycoon’s media-entertainment empire. Lachlan Murdoch, 42, was named on Wednesday as non-executive chairman at News Corp. and 21st Century Fox, the companies created when his father’s conglomerate was split into publishing and entertainment arms.

Murdoch also promoted another of his sons, 41-year-old James, to be cochief operating officer of 21st Century Fox. He is a member of the board of News Corp. The moves put the eldest Murdoch scion into leadership roles at the companies built by his 83-year-old father, years after he abruptly resigned following a clash with other executives. The changes appeared to put Lachlan Murdoch on path to be the heir to the empire built by the Australian-born magnate.

David Folkenflik, author of a 2013 book on Murdoch, said in a tweet that the move likely “smooths path for Lachlan to succeed his father.” And Dan Kennedy, professor of journalism at Northeastern University, said the decision may have been influenced by the ongoing phone-hacking scandal in Britain involving Murdoch’s newspapers. “Given Rupert Murdoch’s advanced age, you get the sense that any changes he makes now are likely to stick until he passes from the scene,” Kennedy told AFP. “That he would bring back Lachlan from exile may be an indication of the damage that was done to James as a result of the phone-hacking scandal. “The question is whether News Corp. can remain a family-run enterprise post-Rupert, or if in time it will evolve into a more modern corporation with professional management.”

Lachlan Murdoch had once been favorite to take over for his father. But that scenario vanished when he abruptly left the group in 2005 when he had the job of deputy chief operating officer. In Wednesday’s statement from News Corp, Rupert Murdoch said: “This appointment is a sign of confidence in the growth potential of News Corp and a recognition of Lachlan’s entrepreneurial leadership and passion for news, digital media and sport.” In a separate statement from 21st Century Fox, the media tycoon said: “Lachlan is a strategic and talented executive with a rich knowledge of our businesses.” Rupert Murdoch remains chairman and chief executive officer of 21st Century Fox. He will also remain executive chairman of News Corp. Angelo Carusone, executive vice president at the watchdog group Media Matters for America, said the changes suggest a less political tilt for the Murdoch companies.

“Lachlan and James are more business creatures than political creatures,” said Carusone, whose organization’s mission is to correct “conservative misinformation.” “Rupert Murdoch is first and foremost a political creature. He sees himself as an old newspaperman, and has shown he is willing to sacrifice profits to promote a political agenda. That is how he views the world. It’s hard to see Lachlan as a political creature.” Carusone said he was surprised that James Murdoch was promoted even amid an ongoing investigation and trials in Britain. “It’s unseemly to me to promote James at this time,” he said. “James seems to have shed all of the stain from the hacking scandal with this appointment.”

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Australian born Rupert Murdoch, who is a naturalized US citizen, has six children from three marriages. Lachlan and James come from Murdoch’s marriage to journalist Anna Torv. The third child from that marriage, Elisabeth, 45, sold her audio-visual production company Shine to her father’s company three years ago. Last year Murdoch split up his media empire into two distinct companies in a bid to “unlock value” by separating the fast-growing TV and film activities from the struggling publishing operations. News Corp includes well-known newspapers like the Wall Street Journal and New York Post in the United States; The Times and The Sunday Times and The Sun in Britain; and The Australian. It also includes Dow Jones news agency, Fox Sports Australia and the HarperCollins publishing house.

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