Rupert Murdoch, the powerful and controversial mogul who helped transform the modern media landscape over seven decades, is stepping down as chairman of his two family-controlled companies Fox Corp. and News Corp.
Murdoch, 92, who will be succeeded by his son Lachlan, announced his decision in a note sent to employees Thursday.
“I am writing to let you all know that I have decided to transition to the role of Chairman Emeritus at Fox and News,” the mogul said. “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.”
The move is meant to be a firm statement that a succession plan will proceed, with Lachlan Murdoch pushing the influential media companies — owners of politically-right-leaning channel Fox News and the Wall Street Journal — forward with their ideological lean.
“My father believed in freedom, and Lachlan is absolutely committed to the cause,” Murdoch wrote. “Self-serving bureaucracies are seeking to silence those who question their provenance and purpose. Elites have open contempt for those who are not members of their rarefied class.”
The succession story began six years ago, when Murdoch formulated plans to sell much of his entertainment company, 21st Century Fox, to the Walt Disney Co.
That move, which was finalized in March 2019, left a slimmed-down version of Fox — the Fox broadcast network, sports networks and Fox News.
Murdoch has long made clear that he wanted his eldest son, Lachlan, to run the operation. The Disney deal formalized his desire because the sale also nudged out his youngest son, James, leaving him without a role in the company. James Murdoch is now working on two separate entertainment ventures.
A restructuring of the executive ranks is expected to follow Murdoch’s announcement, according to people inside the company familiar with the plans but not authorized to comment publicly.
Murdoch is said to be in good health, but has faced various medical issues in recent years. His note said he will “remain involved every day in the contest of ideas.”
But the mogul has faced a challenging year. Fox Corp. had to pay $787.5 million to settle a defamation suit with Dominion Voting Systems. The voting software company claimed it was damaged by Fox News repeatedly presenting Trump’s false charges of fraud in the 2020 election.
The company faces a similar suit from Smartmatic, another voting equipment firm that said it was defamed in Fox News coverage. The suit is scheduled to go to trial next year.
Critics have accused Murdoch’s media outlets of contributing to the coarseness and polarization of society.
In the U.S., he is equally loved and reviled for creating Fox News, which has championed conservative causes, including the political career of Donald Trump, and blasted liberals.
Fox News launched in 1996 as a conservative antidote to his rival Ted Turner’s CNN. With its marketing slogan “fair and balanced,” Murdoch’s outlet carved out its pugnacious profile with coverage of President Clinton’s sex scandal involving Monica Lewinsky.
Over the years, it became a potent platform for Republican politicians to speak to their base in the red states and helped fuel the tea party movement, among others.