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Rupert Murdoch will redefine chair emeritus

Rupert Murdoch is tiptoeing slowly out the door. The 92-year-old media baron will relinquish his role as co-chair of the boards at both $15 billion Fox and $12 billion News Corp, the remnants of the empire he built. The decision at least solidifies succession plans, but there can be little doubt that his chairman emeritus title will be more than just a retirement honorific.

The two companies, which respectively own Fox News and the Wall Street Journal, among other assets, said on Thursday that Murdoch would step down from their boards at the annual shareholder meetings in mid-November. He has been sharing the chairman’s job with his son, Lachlan, who will take the seat himself and keep his chief executive position at Fox. If there were any lingering doubts about who would be in charge after Rupert’s reign, those have now been dispelled and codified by the companies.

His ostensible exit has been happening in extreme slow motion. In 2015, Murdoch ceded the CEO title at Twenty-First Century Fox, as it was then known, and appointed his son, James, to replace him. Lachlan assumed the role after the company’s entertainment and international assets were sold to Walt Disney in 2019. News Corp, which split from Fox in 2013, is helmed by Robert Thomson.

Murdoch has long had a knack for timing. He agreed to the eye-popping $71 billion deal with Disney just before a media meltdown. Fox News, the crown jewel that has cost the company nearly $800 million in legal settlements, is at a pivotal moment ahead of next year’s U.S. presidential election. Cracks have started to appear in the lucrative business of sports broadcasting, evidenced in part by Disney’s recent spat with cable operator Charter Communications (CHTR.O). News Corp, meanwhile, has struggled to gain full appreciation for its real estate websites.

Important strategic decisions will be made during this stretch for the industry, and the elder Murdoch almost certainly will have sway over how Fox and News Corp proceed in it. In 1983, when he booted a newspaper editor and gave him the emeritus title, Murdoch explained that the “E” stood for “exit” and “meritus” meant “you deserve it.” In his memo to employees 40 years later, however, he interpreted the role differently, promising to be “involved every day in the contest of ideas.” For shareholders nervous about the mercurial mogul, the more relevant Latin remains caveat emptor.

Context News
Rupert Murdoch is stepping down as co-chair of media companies Fox and News Corp and his son, Lachlan, will become sole chair, the companies said on Sept. 21. Lachlan is also the chief executive of Fox. Rupert will be chair emeritus of both Fox and News Corp. Reuters

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