- Rupert Murdoch is stepping down as chairman of News Corp. and Fox Corp.
- The news comes as the 92-year-old's empire, which includes Fox News, gears up for the 2024 election.
- Earlier this year, Fox paid $787.5 million to settle defamation claims by voting tech company Dominion.
Murdoch, 92, will be appointed chairman emeritus of each company. Lachlan Murdoch, one of his sons, will become sole chairman of News Corp. and will continue as Fox Corp.'s executive chair and CEO.
"Our companies are in robust health, as am I," the elder Murdoch said in a note to employees. "We have every reason to be optimistic about the coming years – I certainly am, and plan to be here to participate in them. But the battle for the freedom of speech and, ultimately, the freedom of thought, has never been more intense."
Murdoch is stepping away from the boards after a tumultuous year at Fox's TV network, soon after the company agreed to pay a $787.5 million settlement in the Dominion Voting Systems' defamation lawsuit over false claims that the company's machines swayed the 2020 election between President Joe Biden and Donald Trump.
Murdoch's continued role behind the scenes at Fox News was highlighted in the months leading up the Dominion settlement. In his deposition for the lawsuit, Murdoch said some of the network's anchors parroted false claims in the months following the election.
Until the settlement, Dominion was calling for Murdoch, his son, and other top Fox talent and executives to take the stand if a trial occurred. At the time, Fox had opposed having the elder Murdoch — as well as other top Fox executives — appearing in person, citing his age. A Delaware judge rejected the argument, and had said Fox wouldn't have been able to argue hardship given Murdoch's engagement that was later called off and his publicly discussed travel plans.
Since July 2022, Murdoch had worked from his home in Montana rather than going into Fox or News Corp. offices, according to a securities filing.
Fox News also saw top talent Tucker Carlson exit earlier this year, followed by a dip in ratings for a period before he was replaced.
Murdoch's departure also comes a year ahead of the upcoming U.S. presidential election. News Corp. owns newspapers The Wall Street Journal and New York Post, among other publications, while Fox is the parent company of right-leaning TV networks Fox News and Fox Business.
The Australian media mogul got his start in the industry nearly 70 years ago in 1954, after taking control of what was called News Ltd., which owned the No. 2 newspaper in Adelaide, Australia. His father was a war correspondent and regional newspaper owner.
From there he built his newspaper empire, stretching to racy tabloids in Britain and later the U.S.
In the 1980s, he entered the television business, and bought oil tycoon Marvin Davis' 50% stake in Twentieth Century Fox in 1985. He became a U.S. citizen that year in order to meet the requirement for owning TV stations in the country.
In 1996 the Fox News Channel was launched, and has since become a top-rated cable network.
"For my entire professional life, I have been engaged daily with news and ideas, and that will not change," Murdoch said in his note to employees, adding it was time for him to take on different roles.
Nearly a year ago, Murdoch explored reuniting Fox and News Corp., a move that would have allowed leadership to be consolidated in his media empire, as well as cutting costs. Murdoch had split up News Corp. and Fox in 2013.
The proposal had come as audiences shrink for both print media and cable TV, while readers and viewers increasingly get their news and entertainment from online news, social media and streaming.
However, Murdoch called off the proposed merger in January. Murdoch had withdrawn the proposal for the reunion, saying in a letter to the board that he and his son "determined that a combination is not optimal for the shareholders" of either of the companies at the time.
The Murdoch family trust controls roughly 40% of the voting rights of both companies. The family is said to have amassed a fortune of more than $17 billion as of 2023.
Fox and its broadcast and pay TV networks are left over from the $71.3 billion Twenty-First Century Fox sale to Disney in 2019. The media company has focused on news and sports — primarily for its traditional TV networks — as well as the free, ad-supported streamer Tubi, rather than jumping into the direct-to-consumer subscription streaming business like its peers.
Fox, which saw its stock move up slightly on Thursday, has a market cap of more than $15.5 billion. News Corp. has a market cap of more than $11 billion.
The Murdochs' time and power in media has been chronicled over the years in books, as well as considered to be loosely portrayed in the HBO series "Succession." In coming days, Michael Wolff's "The Fall: The End of Fox News and the Murdoch Dynasty," will be released and is said to include more revelations about the Murdoch family, U.S. politics and Fox News.
Read Murdoch's full note to employees:
I am writing to let you all know that I have decided to transition to the role of Chairman Emeritus at Fox and News. For my entire professional life, I have been engaged daily with news and ideas, and that will not change. But the time is right for me to take on different roles, knowing that we have truly talented teams and a passionate, principled leader in Lachlan who will become sole Chairman of both companies.
Neither excessive pride nor false humility are admirable qualities. But I am truly proud of what we have achieved collectively through the decades, and I owe much to my colleagues, whose contributions to our success have sometimes been unseen outside the company but are deeply appreciated by me. Whether the truck drivers distributing our papers, the cleaners who toil when we have left the office, the assistants who support us or the skilled operators behind the cameras or the computer code, we would be less successful and have less positive impact on society without your day-after-day dedication.
Our companies are in robust health, as am I. Our opportunities far exceed our commercial challenges. We have every reason to be optimistic about the coming years - I certainly am, and plan to be here to participate in them. But the battle for the freedom of speech and, ultimately, the freedom of thought, has never been more intense.
My father firmly believed in freedom, and Lachlan is absolutely committed to the cause. Self-serving bureaucracies are seeking to silence those who would question their provenance and purpose. Elites have open contempt for those who are not members of their rarefied class. Most of the media is in cahoots with those elites, peddling political narratives rather than pursuing the truth.
In my new role, I can guarantee you that I will be involved every day in the contest of ideas. Our companies are communities, and I will be an active member of our community. I will be watching our broadcasts with a critical eye, reading our newspapers and websites and books with much interest, and reaching out to you with thoughts, ideas, and advice. When I visit your countries and companies, you can expect to see me in the office late on a Friday afternoon.
I look forward to seeing you wherever you work and whatever your responsibility. And I urge you to make the most of this great opportunity to improve the world we live in.