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Wednesday, 31 July, 2002, 02:04 GMT 03:04 UK
Rupert Murdoch: Bigger than Kane
Rupert Murdoch
Rupert Murdoch: Never afraid of a scrap

To some he is little less than the devil incarnate, to others, the most progressive mover-and-shaker in the media business. Whatever the case, as head of a global broadcasting empire worth 30bn, Rupert Murdoch continues to provoke strong emotions.
No-one who saw Melvyn Bragg's dramatic interview with Dennis Potter in 1994 will ever forget it. Potter, who was terminally ill with cancer, yet had lost none of his waspish wit, mused on his life, his work...and his illness.

"I call my cancer Rupert," he told Bragg. "Because that man Murdoch is the one who, if I had the time (I've got too much writing to do)... I would shoot the bugger if I could.

"There is no one person more responsible for the pollution of what was already a fairly polluted press."

Young Rupert Murdoch with his father
Young Rupert with father, Sir Keith
The focus of Potter's hatred - Rupert Murdoch - is now 71, with a new baby daughter by a new wife.

He is as ambitious as ever, still planning to expand his business, News Corporation (News Corp), and intent on establishing his children as worthy successors to their old man.

From Page Three through the Simpsons and BSkyB to Twentieth Century Fox and digital television, Murdoch has created a personal media empire before which even Citizen Kane would tremble.

But, his many detractors would say, Murdoch's success has resulted in the dumbing-down of the media, with quality entertainment and journalism replaced by mindless vulgarity.


Beyond this, they mutter darkly about his emergence as a voracious political wheeler-dealer.

Keith Rupert Murdoch was born in Australia in 1931. His father, Sir Keith, was a regional newspaper magnate, based in Melbourne, and the family enjoyed considerable wealth.

Even as a child, Murdoch knew his own mind. He was, his mother recalls, "not the sort of person who liked playing in a team".

I'm rather sick of snobs who tell us they're bad papers.

Murdoch lambasts his critics
Groomed by his father, young Rupert was educated at Oxford, where he supported the Labour Party. But, aged just 22, Sir Keith died and Murdoch returned to Australia to take charge of the family business.

"My father left me with a clear sense that the media was something different," Murdoch recently told one interviewer.

Taking charge, not of his father's more prestigious titles, but of the Adelaide News, a loss making newspaper based in the provinces, Rupert Murdoch began his spectacular rise.


Soon he had expanded his legacy into a nation-wide business, encompassing newspapers, magazines and television stations.

He also found time to found Australia's first national newspaper, the Australian.

Even then, he was accused of peddling sleaze. He responded with typical directness.

"I'm rather sick of snobs who tell us they're bad papers, snobs who only read papers that no-one else wants," he said

Probably the bravest deal-maker the world has ever known.

Andrew Neil
1968 brought a major breakthrough, when Murdoch beat Robert Maxwell to buy London's News of the World. He later incorporated the Sun, the Times and the Sunday Times into his News International group.

It was the Sun which introduced bare breasts to the breakfast table and which, during the 1982 Falklands conflict, provided history's most infamous headline.

GOTCHA!, screamed the paper's front page after the sinking of the Argentinian cruiser, General Belgrano, to huge outrage.

As Charles Foster Kane once put it: "If the headline is big enough, it makes the news big enough".

Murdoch went from strength to strength. Moving to New York in the '70s, he snapped up, and revitalised, both the New York Post and New York magazine.

But it was the 1980s which, in many people's minds, defined Murdoch.

Rupert Murdoch in the 1960s
Murdoch shook up publishing in the '60s
Leaving Fleet Street for good, he re-located to Wapping in London's East End, refused to recognise unions and sacked 5000 workers.

Vowing to "shock people into a new attitude", Murdoch fought a year-long battle which, though eventually victorious, made him into a bogey-man for many on the left.

But Andrew Neil, his former right-hand man at the Sunday Times and Sky Television, called Murdoch "probably the most inventive, the bravest deal-maker the world has ever known".

Profits from Murdoch's lower-cost newspaper empire offset the losses he accrued at Sky Television, allowing him to buy the rights to Premiership football and revolutionise the sport, to many people's disgust.

Global reach

But it is the United States which has proved Murdoch's happiest hunting ground. He even became a US citizen in 1985 to comply with the country's media ownership laws.

As owner of Twentieth Century Fox and the Fox television network, he has been responsible for both the Simpsons and the feature film, Titanic.

The Dirty Digger of popular repute now enjoys a global reach, using a sophisticated system of communications satellites to reach his audience, whether in Baltimore, Basingstoke or Beijing.

Domestically, though, Murdoch's life has been complicated, to say the least. After a short-lived early marriage, he and his second wife, Anna, divorced in 1999, after 31 years.

The "battle of Wapping" left many scars
Three weeks later, he married Wendi Deng, a Chinese-born News Corp executive. He was 68, she 32. Their child, Grace, was born in November 2001.

Strangely for a man who despises the aristocracy and praises meritocracy, Murdoch has shamelessly promoted three of his four grown-up children to run his companies.

Though his daughter, Elizabeth, left Sky Television to pursue her own dreams, sons James and Lachlan remain poised to take over from their father, whose recent brush with prostate cancer caused tremors in financial markets.

Whether pronouncing on New Labour (he is broadly in favour) or on the Euro (he is firmly against British participation), Rupert Murdoch continues to live up to his billing as a press baron.

An early apostle of digital broadcasting, Murdoch entered the internet business just as the smart money left town. It is clear that he still sees plenty of dragons ripe for slaying.

With no intention of retiring, Rupert Murdoch's many fans and enemies may well have to put up with the Digger for some time yet.

See also:

08 May 02 | Politics
07 May 02 | Entertainment
30 Jul 01 | Entertainment
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