Rupert Murdoch said his son will take over his media empire and continue to hold “elites” with “contempt” for ordinary people to account as he resigned as chairman after almost 70 years.
In a surprise announcement on Thursday, News Corp and Fox said the 92-year-old will step down as chairman of both companies after decades of wielding influence over prime ministers and presidents.
He will take up the role of chairman emeritus of both companies, while his son Lachlan will become sole chairman of News Corp and continue as executive chairman and chief executive of Fox.
In a message to employees, the elder Murdoch said the companies were in “robust health, as am I”, but added: “The battle for the freedom of speech and, ultimately, the freedom of thought, has never been more intense.”
Mr Murdoch said: “Self-serving bureaucracies are seeking to silence those who would question their provenance and purpose.
“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.”
Here's how Fox News announced the news about Rupert Murdoch pic.twitter.com/eSSYslHg50
— Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) September 21, 2023
The media mogul insisted he would continue to be involved in the “contest of ideas”, adding that staff could expect to see him in the office late on a Friday afternoon.
His decision to step back from the day-to-day operations of his two media businesses marks the end of the lengthy reign of Mr Murdoch, who inherited his father’s newspaper business in Australia in 1952.
Over the following decades, he expanded his empire into the UK and US, buying titles including the News of the World, The Sun, The Times and The Wall Street Journal.
His interests also expanded into TV and entertainment through the ownership of 20th Century Fox. He set up pay TV operator Sky, which is now owned by Comcast.
Mr Mudoch’s decision to step back comes at a pivotal moment for his businesses, with elections in both the US and UK next year.
Fox faces a difficult task in covering an election in which Donald Trump is a front-runner. The former President is popular among Fox’s viewership but the channel has struggled to cover Mr Trump at times given his record of falsehoods.
Earlier this year, Fox agreed to pay $787m to settle a defamation lawsuit with Dominion Voting Systems over allegations the TV channel aired false claims that Dominion was involved in a plot to rig the 2020 US presidential election.
Murdoch has been a supporter of Donald Trump but has soured on the businessman since his loss in the 2020 election. A new book claims the tycoon often wishes the former US President was dead.
Author Michael Wolff claims the media mogul has become a “frothing-at-the-mouth” critic of the man he previously backed to be president.
Control of the empire will now pass to eldest son Lachlan, who usurped his brother James as heir apparent in recent years. He took over as chief executive of Fox Corp following the $71bn sale of entertainment arm 21st Century Fox to Disney in 2019.
Lachlan, 52, is widely viewed as loyal to his father and is said to have been involved in the surprise decision to fire controversial host Tucker Carlson from Fox News earlier this year.
He was behind attempts to re-merge Fox and News Corp last year. The effort was abandoned in January following a backlash from shareholders.
Questions about succession at the Murdoch empire have grown this year following reports about the nonagenarian’s health.
A Vanity Fair article earlier this year revealed that Mr Murdoch was taken to hospital with a severe case of Covid-19 last summer. In separate incidents he was confined to a wheelchair after suffering a fall and was taken to hospital on several occasions with pneumonia.
In one incident in 2018, the billionaire was reportedly forced to spend the night on a stretcher in a car park on a Caribbean island after injuring himself in a fall on board a yacht.
Lachlan Murdoch said: “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.
“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.
“We are grateful that he will serve as Chairman Emeritus and know he will continue to provide valued counsel to both companies.”