1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Rupert Murdoch steps down amid political controversy

Monir Ghaedi
September 23, 2023

Media mogul Rupert Murdoch is retiring after a 7-decade career, leaving behind a legacy of scandals and political conservatism.

Rupert Murdoch holding the British Newpaper The Sun
For decades, Murdoch's outlets have supported right-wing politicians and their policiesImage: Arthur Edwards/News International via Getty Images

Rupert Murdoch revealed on Thursday his decision to step down from his role as chairman of the influential media conglomerates Fox Corp and News Corp, ending a seven-decade career.

In a statement, Murdoch said he would hand control of his media empire to his son Lachlan Murdoch, who is currently the executive chair and CEO of Fox Corp.

The Australian-born media mogul founded News Corporation, a predecessor to News Corp, in 1980. This venture would expand to encompass large shares of an extensive array of media companies, spanning newspapers, television channels and film studios across Britain, the United States and several other countries. 

Republican presidential candidates in FOX News Channel studio during a live debate.
FOX News Channel is known for promoting US republican politicians.Image: Morry Gash/AP/picture alliance

Murdoch's retirement announcement has reverberated throughout the media. In the United States, observers are discussing the ramifications of his exit on his outlets' coverage of the 2024 US presidential election.

Here is what to know about Murdoch, his media empire and selected scandals that his outlets have been at the center of.

Rupert Murdoch's empire

Murdoch began building his media empire by inheriting a single Adelaide newspaper, The News, from his father in the early 1950s. During the 1960s, he purchased several Australian local newspapers, including The Sunday Times in Perth and The Daily Mirror in Sydney. In 1964, he launched The Australian, a newspaper with national reach.

Black-and-white picture of  Rupert Murdoch holding Daily Mirror newspaper
Media tycoon Rupert Murdoch takes over Sydney tabloid the Daily Mirror, May 1960.Image: Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In 1969, Murdoch marked his entry into the British media landscape with the acquisitions of The News of the World and The Sun. Later in the 1980s, he acquired The Times and The Sunday Times, consolidating his presence in British media.

Murdoch entered the US media market in the early 1970s by buying several local newspapers. But his most pivotal acquisition came with the purchase of 20th Century Fox in 1985, which laid the foundation for the creation of Fox News and the growth of his influence in the US.

Murdoch also owns media companies in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and across the Americas. For example, according to Reporters Without Borders, he owns a controlling share of the Papua New Guinea Post Courier. In India, he has reportedly been engaged in the media market for about 20 years, with his properties being controlled by Star India Private Ltd.

'Peddling political narratives'

In the memo announcing his departure, Murdoch asserts that rival media outlets function as instruments of a "powerful elite" and aim to influence public opinion.

"Elites have open contempt for those who are not members of their rarefied class," he wrote. "Most of the media is in cahoots with those elites, peddling political narratives rather than pursuing the truth."

Nevertheless, for decades, Murdoch has used his media properties to establish close ties to prominent conservatives in Australia, the UK, and the United States. 

With Fox News, The Wall Street Journal and the New York Post in the United States; The Sun and The Times in Britain; and the national The Australian newspaper, as well as broadcast and local outlets across Australia, Murdoch owns platforms that have played a significant role in mobilizing right-wing voters across the UK, US and Australia.

Fox News, for example, has drawn criticism for aligning with the Republican Party in the United States. Prior to his defeat in the 2020 US presidential election, former President Donald Trump consistently received steadfast coverage and support from Fox News. In December 2017, The New York Times reported that Murdoch had maintained regular communication with Trump almost every day since his inauguration in January 2017, offering counsel to the new president.

Murdoch-owned newspapers, particularly The Sun tabloid, offered their support to Margaret Thatcher, the Conservative politician who served as prime minister of the United Kingdom from 1979 to 1990. Similarly, David Cameron, a Conservative who held the prime minister's office from 2010 to 2016, received favorable coverage and backing from Murdoch's media. Murdoch reportedly held multiple private meetings with Boris Johnson. His media outlets actively advocated for policies including Brexit and the 2003 Iraq invasion.

Bogus fraud claims

In the run-up to and aftermath of the 2020 US presidential election, which Trump lost to Joe Biden, Fox News network actively promoted the narrative that the vote was being stolen.

Earlier this year, Fox News reached a $787.5 million settlement in a defamation lawsuit with Dominion Voting Systems – a Canadian company that produces and sells electronic voting hardware and software. According to Reuters, this agreement averted a trial that would have implicated Rupert Murdoch, his son Lachlan, Fox executives, and hosts as anticipated witnesses. The trial would have subjected Fox News to scrutiny for its dissemination of unsubstantiated claims of election rigging in the 2020 US presidential election.

In another major scandal to rock Murdoch media outlets, in 2011 investigations in Britain revealed that employees of News of the World had systematically hacked into the phones of politicians, celebrities and other newsmakers, including voicemail messages between a murdered girl and her relatives, in order to produce exclusive stories. Over 1 billion pounds in compensation was eventually paid to hacking victims. In December 2015, Murdoch appeared before MPs and, while denying knowledge of the phone hacking, described it as "the most humble day of my life."

The hacking scandal led to a series of investigations in the UK and US that raised questions about News Corp's close ties with politicians such as Cameron. A year later, a separate scandal emerged in which it was revealed that senior executives from News Corp, including Rupert Murdoch's son James Murdoch, had lobbied the Cameron government to boost the company's bid to take full control of British satellite broadcaster BSkyB. That bid ultimately failed, and today the company is called Sky Group Limited.

Murdoch and Murdoch smile for the camera, with their arms around each other's backs
Rupert Murdoch said he would remain involved as chairman emeritus of the Fox and News Corp boards, but the day-to-day business would be handled by Lachlan.Image: Eric Charbonneau/Invision for Twentieth Century Fox/AP/picture alliance

US media widely describe Lachlan's approach as being very close to his father's style and brand of conservatism.

In his staff memo, Murdoch assured employees that Lachlan would offer a steady hand. "My father firmly believed in freedom, and Lachlan is absolutely committed to the cause," he wrote. Rupert Murdoch vowed that he would still be "involved every day in the contest of ideas."

Edited by: Michaela Cavanagh