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murdochs big match Friday, 12 March, 1999, 17:21 GMT
Murdoch's rise to the top
Rupert Murdoch, as this week's events have shown, arouses strong passions.
Rupert Murdoch arouses strong passions
By BBC Media Correspondent Torin Douglas

This is not the first time Rupert Murdoch has caused uproar with one of his media deals, and it is unlikely to be the last.

Murdoch's big match
Ever since as a young Australian he bought his first British newspaper - the News of the World - he has shown he is not afraid who he upsets - the Establishment, rival media owners, trade unions, the public or government ministers.

In the 60s, he reinforced the News of the World's sex-and-scandal reputation by serialising the memoirs of Christine Keeler, the prostitute whose liaison with a minister helped bring down the government of Harold Macmillan.

In the 70s, he took over an ailing broadsheet newspaper, The Sun, and turned it into a racy tabloid which became Britain's biggest-selling daily, thanks to a mix of topless women, right-wing politics and sport.

In the early 80s he once again shocked the establishment by taking over the top people's paper - the Times - which had made losses for many years, along with its sister title, the very profitable Sunday Times.

To many people's surprise, the Thatcher Government permitted the takeover without an investigation, on the grounds that the company was unprofitable.

For years, British newspaper production had been in the grip of militant trade unions, cutting papers' profitability and restricting the number of pages they could print.

Battles between police and pickets in Wapping
Battles between police and pickets in Wapping
In the mid-80s Mr Murdoch finally decided to bust the unions, secretly moving his four national newspapers to a new plant in Wapping, east London, which used computerised technology. The resulting dispute - which brought battles between police and pickets - lasted months, reinforcing his reputation as a hate-figure among the left.

But Mr Murdoch won the battle, not merely increasing his papers' profits but enabling his rivals - and new newspapers such as the Independent - to introduce the new technology and new sections, too.

The profits from the Sun, News of the World and Sunday Times helped Murdoch establish other media ventures around the world, notably in the United States.

He took American citizenship to further his business interests there - and began to establish himself in television, challenging the 'Big Three' national networks - ABC, NBC and CBS - by launching his own fledgling fourth network, Fox.

Programs like the Simpsons helped Murdoch succeed where others had failed
Programs like the Simpsons helped Murdoch succeed where others had failed
The experts said it could not be done - because people had tried and failed in the past - but by focusing on programmes for the youth market, such as The Simpsons, Mr Murdoch succeeded where others had failed.

His attempt to get into British television - he briefly rescued London Weekend Television in its early days - had been rebuffed by the regulators. He saw satellite television as a new way in and in the late-80s launched Sky TV, shortly before an officially-backed rival service called British Satellite Broadcasting.

The head-on battle led to both companies 'haemorrhaging red ink' (in the memorable words of CNN's Ted Turner).

When they finally merged - to form BSkyB - with Rupert Murdoch in the driving seat, the combined losses were 10m a week!

Sky's losses - funded by a worldwide group of banks - nearly brought down the whole Murdoch empire.

But gradually BSkyB began to establish itself, by offering a diet of movies and sport. What set it on the road to huge profits was the establishment of football's Premier League - BSkyB won the TV rights, in competition with ITV, and for the first time viewers at home were charged a subscription for watching live football.

 Murdoch watching one of his aquisitions - the Dodgers baseball team
Mr Murdoch watches one of his acquisitions - the Dodgers baseball team
Soon BSkyB was on the way to becoming one of Britain's most profitable companies

Now Rupert Murdoch and his executives at BSkyB have taken the logical next step - owning a top football club.

He has said he sees sport as the "battering ram" for pay-television, and his purchase of the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team and the New York Knicks basketball side shows he sees it as a global trend.

Football - unlike basketball - is a truly global sport and Manchester United can claim to be THE global team, with fans all over the world eager to watch the matches and buy the merchandise.

Rupert Murdoch, as this week's events have shown, arouses strong passions. His critics say he cares only for his businesses and he will trample over those who oppose him.

The Sun had always been a Labour critic until the 1997 election
The Sun had always been a Labour critic until the 1997 election
His relations with politicians - notably the Blair Government - have come under close scrutiny, particularly after the Sun, a traditional critic of Labour, supported the party at the last election.

Some say he has coarsened Britain because of the huge influence of the Sun, which is claimed to have led the trend towards tabloid values.

His supporters claim he has revived a British newspaper industry that was once thought to be doomed and brought TV into a new era of choice and competition, in which sports fans can watch for hours without interrupting the viewing of those who cannot stand it.

They say his millions have revived British football, building new stands and making the Premier League the richest and arguably the best in the world.

The real problem, some say, is the way that the newspapers in Rupert Murdoch's empire are required to act as cheerleaders for his other ventures.

The Sun has always promoted Sky Television. This week, while other papers were reporting that Manchester United fans were angry at the Murdoch takeover, the Sun claimed they had "hailed the deal" and were delighted at the prospects for "Gold Trafford".

Only last week the Sun exposed the private life of one of Manchester United's new stars. Will it carry such stories in future? And what if the club fails to start winning trophies? The sports pages are unlikely to blame the new owner.

Links to more murdochs big match stories are at the foot of the page.


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