The news that Rupert Murdoch is transitioning to the role of Chairman Emeritus at News Corp brings to mind an anecdote about the Australian that has become newsroom folklore. When told by HR he couldn’t fire the former Times Editor Frank Giles, Murdoch informed him of his promotion to ‘Editor Emeritus’. When Giles questioned what the new title meant, Murdoch told him “The E means you’re out, the ‘meritus means you deserve it.”
Jokes aside, Murdoch’s impact on the cultural fabric of the UK can be summed up in two headlines from The Sun, the tabloid he bought in 1969.
The first, ‘It’s The Sun Wot Won It’, appeared on 11th April 1992 the morning after the Conservatives’ General Election victory – a characteristically humble boast about the perceived power Murdoch’s newspapers had over the country and its political direction. The Sun campaigned relentlessly against the Labour Party and its leader Neil Kinnock during an election campaign, which for a large part pointed towards a Labour victory or at the very least a hung parliament. While the true scale of the media’s influence on voting intentions is disputed, it’s no coincidence that successive PMs and prospective PMs of all colours have sought to cosy up to and win favour with News UK and its founding family; Tony Blair is godparent to one of Murdoch’s daughters while David Cameron famously signed off text messages to News UK CEO Rebekah Brooks, with ‘LOL’, under the impression that it was an abbreviation of ‘Lots of Love’.
The second is one of my favourite headlines of all time. And appeared in the Scottish edition of the newspaper in February 2000. ‘Super Caley go ballistic, Celtic are atrocious’ summed up Inverness Caledonian Thistle’s shock Scottish Cup over giants Celtic. Modern-day top-level football in the UK and the ambition of Rupert Murdoch are intertwined. In 1992, Murdoch’s Sky TV offered to pay £42m more than ITV for the rights to show the newly formed English Premier League. Overnight the deal took English football, still in the shadow of hooliganism and Thatcherism from a Saturday afternoon spectator sport with odd televised games, to a Televisual phenomenon. Sky agreed to show 60 games a season, the first being Nottingham Forest v Liverpool on 16th August 1992. Murdoch saw the potential of football for his fledgling broadcaster, and football’s top-level clubs have reaped the rewards ever since.
From hacking to Hillsborough there is plenty to criticise, chastise and condemn about Rupert Murdoch’s influence on the UK but the scale and breadth of that influence can’t be underestimated and is unlikely to be matched by another individual in any of our lifetimes.