Elisabeth Murdoch, the second oldest daughter of New Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch and the chair and founder of the television production company Shine, made clear the divisions within her family in delivering the prestigious James MacTaggart Memorial Lecture to the Edinburgh International Television Festival on Friday. Portraying herself as the champion of “honesty”, “integrity” and moral “purpose,” Murdoch separated herself from her younger brother James, who has spent the past year caught up in the hacking scandal that erupted last July and that has damaged News Corp.’s reputation, sparked police investigations and seen executives, editors and reporters from the company’s British newspaper affiliates arrested on criminal charges.
In her speech, Murdoch took pains to differentiate the corporate structure of her company, Shine, from that of News Corp.: “A great creative organisation is like any successful community. It’s a place of honesty, integrity… that demands personal accountability, collective responsibility and true self-determination.” In a seeming effort to address shareholders’ critique that the Murdoch family is too much in control of News Corp., she referred to her earlier career outside of it, saying that she had thus learned that “leadership is earned and not bestowed by titles or even share certificates.”
It must be kept in mind that Elisabeth Murdoch gained about about $214 million after selling Shine to News Corp. last year for about $659 million (£415 million), a deal that led to a lawsuit alleging that Rupert Murdoch had engaged in “rampant nepotism” and was treating News Corp. “as a wholly-owned family candy store,” says the Telegraph. In her speech, the daughter offered praise for the father: “My dad had the vision, the will and the sense of purpose to challenge the old world order.”
James Murdoch had delivered the same speech three years ago, at a time when he was considered the heir apparent to step into his father’s shoes at the helm of News Corp. The younger Murdoch had “accused the BBC of expansionist plans that had ‘a chilling effect’ on the rest of the British media,” arguing that it would be “stifling private sector companies who needed to make a profit to survive.” But his sister had this to say:
“James was right that if you remove profit, then independence is massively challenged but I think that he left something out: the reason his statement sat so uncomfortably is that profit without purpose is a recipe for disaster…..Profit must be our servant not our master.”
Instead, in a speech that, the Telegraph commented, “bordered on a philosophy lecture,” Elisabeth Murdoch made a number of lofty pronouncements (“It’s us, human beings, we the people, who create the society we want, not profit”). She argued that the “Olympics experience demonstrates that television is a force for storytelling rather than a route to political power.”
The Independent has taken some quotations from Murdoch’s speech and offered interpretations of what she really meant. According to the Guardian, she wrote the speech mostly by herself “with no input from other family members” and with polishing and fact-checking from a “small team of advisers largely from within Shine” and her husband, PR man Matthew Freud (a great-grandson of Sigmund Freud).
Certainly what Elisabeth Murdoch says about putting humanity before profit, “personal accountability” within organizations and television as about storytelling rather than politics and PR, sounds very good. But call me a cynic, I’m finding her speech more propaganda than philosophizing, an effort to alert, and divert, us to think about “the good” of her company’s, and her father’s company’s, work.
Shine is owned by News Corp. which also, of course, owns Fox News etc. When is a Murdoch not a Murdoch?
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Photo by Nordiske Mediedager