Hero or villain? Rupert Murdoch’s departure is causing strong feelings in Britain, where it has upset the media

Before he hit America, Rupert Murdoch took Britain's media by storm.

His newspapers changed the political and cultural weather and advanced elections. Its satellite TV channels disrupted the fixed broadcast scene.

Journalists and politicians in the United Kingdom cheered and booed the 92-year-old tycoon after he announced Thursday that he is stepping down as the leader of Fox and News Corp., handing control to his son Lachlan.

For The Times of London, which he owns, Murdoch was “a pioneer who changed the media”. Former prime minister Boris Johnson said the tycoon “did more than any press baron in the last 100 years to advance the cause of a free global media that is essential to democracy and progress”.

But to his critics, Murdoch was an unaccountable, malevolent presence in British life. Nathan Sparkes of Hacked Off, a press reform group which aims to curb tabloid wrongdoing, said Murdoch “presides over a company where widespread illegality occurred and then was covered up”. Former Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn claimed Murdoch's media “poisoned global democracy and spread misinformation on a massive scale”.

UK Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt told LBC radio: “He is someone who, love him or hate him, has had a defining influence on all of our lives over the last half century.”

The Australian upstart was a complete unknown in Britain when it bought the Sunday News of the World in 1969, acquiring the daily The Sun soon after. As a hands-on owner, he revitalized Britain's classy newspaper scene, with publications that included sport, celebrity, awards and sex – most notoriously with The Sun's topless ‘Page 3 girls'.

In an interview with the BBC in 1989, Murdoch put his success down to his Antipodean roots, saying that Australians came to the UK with “greater determination and greater energy”, unfettered by respect for “old world rules”. ».

“We did things that people said couldn't be done,” he said.

Populist, pompous and patriotic, Murdoch's tabloids had an unmistakable style. Critics panned headlines such as “Up yours, Delors”, directed at then-European Commission president Jacques Delors, and “Gotcha!”. — The Sun's reaction when a British submarine sank the Argentine cruiser Belgrano, killing more than 300 sailors, during the 1982 Falklands War.

The Sun's coverage of the 1989 Hillsborough stadium disaster, in which 96 Liverpool football fans were killed, caused outrage by making false allegations against the victims. More than three decades later, many Liverpool residents still refuse to read the Sun.

But politicians on the right and left both courted and feared Murdoch, who added the Times and Sunday Times to his stable in 1981.

An arch-conservative who also hates the establishment, he was an enthusiastic supporter in the 1980s of Conservative leader Margaret Thatcher, who shared Murdoch's hostility to powerful unions. After the surprise victory of Thatcher's conservative successor, John Major, in the 1992 election, the tabloid boasted: “It's the Sun that didn't win it.”

Tony Blair's success in securing Murdoch's support helped Blair's Labor Party win a landslide victory in 1997. Like other politicians, Blair denied giving Murdoch anything in return for his support — although many skeptics they disputed.

“There was no agreement on matters relating to the media with Rupert Murdoch, or anyone else, either express or implied,” Blair said at a 2012 inquiry into media ethics, which was sparked by revelations that they rocked Murdoch's British empire.

In 2011 it was revealed that News of the World employees had tapped the phones of celebrities, politicians, royals and even a teenage murder victim. Murdoch was forced to close the paper, several executives were put on trial and former editor Andy Coulson went to prison.

Since then, Murdoch's News Corp. has paid tens of millions in restitution to alleged victims, including many who say they were targeted by Sun. Prince Harry is among the celebrities currently suing the Sun over alleged hacking, which the paper has never admitted.

Murdoch has condemned the phone hacking and other misconduct in the media, but claims he was unaware of its extent and blamed a small number of rogue staff.

A journalist at heart, Murdoch sensed from the 1980s that media was changing and that pay TV would be central to the future. He started the Sky Television satellite television network from an industrial area of ​​London in 1989 with what he admitted was “a feather and a prayer”.

Sky almost collapsed early on, but was saved when Murdoch secured the rights to broadcast live Premier League football matches in 1992. Sports helped the company, later known as BSkyB, become a British broadcasting behemoth.

However, the phone-hacking scandal forced Murdoch to abandon his bid to take full control of Sky, in which he owned around 40%. He sold his stake in the station to Comcast in 2018.

Murdoch still owns the Times, Sunday Times and Sun newspapers and the struggling news channel Talk TV, but many industry watchers suspect that Lachlan Murdoch, who is far less interested in newspapers than his father, will eventually shed the British newspapers.

For now, Rupert Murdoch remains a magnet for Britain's powerful and power-seekers. The guest list for his summer party in June included Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, several members of his cabinet and opposition Labor leader Keir Starmer.


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