By Jack Phillips
Billionaire media mogul Rupert Murdoch is stepping down from his chairman of the board position at both Fox Corporation and News Corp., the company confirmed Thursday.
Mr. Murdoch will officially withdraw from his positions at the company in November, the companies said. In a note, the 92-year-old said that he’s in good health despite his age.
“Our companies are in robust health, as am I,” Mr. Murdoch said in a note to employees, according to multiple news reports. “We have every reason to be optimistic about the coming years—I certainly am, and plan to be here to participate in them. But the battle for the freedom of speech and, ultimately, the freedom of thought, has never been more intense.”
Continuing, Mr. Murdoch said that for most of his life, he has “been engaged daily with news and ideas, and that will not change,” while adding that the “time is right for me to take on different roles, knowing that we have truly talented teams,” according to reports.
Fox said that he will transition to chairman emeritus after the firm’s next annual meeting next month. His son, Lachlan Murdoch, will become the sole chairman of News Corp. and an executive co-chairman and CEO of Fox Corporation.
“On behalf of the FOX and News Corp boards of directors, leadership teams, and all the shareholders who have benefited from his hard work, I congratulate my father on his remarkable 70-year career,” Lachlan Murdoch in a statement Thursday in announcing his father’s move.
“We thank him for his vision, his pioneering spirit, his steadfast determination, and the enduring legacy he leaves to the companies he founded and countless people he has impacted,” he added. “We are grateful that he will serve as Chairman Emeritus and know he will continue to provide valued counsel to both companies.”
An Australian, Mr. Murdoch got into the newspaper business in the 1950s and became a Hollywood executive before he bought Twentieth Century Fox in the mid-1980s. He then purchased multiple American television stations and then created Fox Broadcasting.
Then, in 1996, he created Fox News as a competitor to CNN. Eventually, Fox News became the No. 1 cable news channel.
In recent months, Fox News has been mired in a tumultuous period. It reached a $787 million settlement over 2020 election claims in mid-April, and, in the days after that, the company suddenly announced that it parted ways with its most popular host, Tucker Carlson, for reasons that are still not entirely clear.
After Mr. Carlson’s departure, Fox News announced that it shifted its primetime lineup, placing host Jesse Watters in Mr. Carlson’s old 8 p.m. timeslot. After Mr. Carlson’s departure, Fox News saw a drop in ratings for multiple months, but for the month of August 2023, the channel was the No. 1 cable news network again.
Mr. Murdoch’s departure also comes about one year ahead of the upcoming 2024 election in the United States. Notably, News Corp. owns the Wall Street Journal, the New York Post, and other publications, while Fox Corp. is the parent company of Fox News and Fox Business.
“My father firmly believed in freedom, and Lachlan is absolutely committed to the cause. Self-serving bureaucracies are seeking to silence those who would question their provenance and purpose,” the elder Murdoch also wrote in his Thursday note. “Elites have open contempt for those who are not members of their rarefied class. Most of the media is in cahoots with those elites, peddling political narratives rather than pursuing the truth.”
He added: “In my new role, I can guarantee you that I will be involved every day in the contest of ideas. Our companies are communities, and I will be an active member of our community. I will be watching our broadcasts with a critical eye, reading our newspapers and websites and books with much interest, and reaching out to you with thoughts, ideas, and advice. When I visit your countries and companies, you can expect to see me in the office late on a Friday afternoon.”
As of Thursday morning trading, Fox Corporation’s shares dropped about 1.3 percent.
Earlier this year, the elder Murdoch reportedly abandoned a plan to merge News Corp. and Fox Corporation after criticism from several shareholders. In October, he said that the two media groups were forming committees to “thoroughly evaluate a potential combination,” it was reported.
Multiple shareholders, however, reportedly pushed back against the merger plan. Mr. Murdoch’s family then released a statement saying it would carry out the merger if it was approved by a majority vote of shareholders by certain stockholders.