The News-Fox merger is a jump to the right

The News-Fox merger is a jump to the right

Updated: 5 months, 1 day, 8 hours, 46 minutes, 48 seconds ago

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Lachlan and Rupert Murdoch (Images: AAP)

Buckle up! Everything we know about News Corp suggests the impending merger between the two family companies is more than just a book-keeping tidy-up. It’s a touch of Succession mixed with The Rocky Horror Picture Show, all carefully written into dull-as-dishwater corporate speak.

The announcement that the Murdoch family trust wants to merge the two media companies it controls — News Corp and Fox Corp — has flipped a light on over at the Murdochs’ place.

Echoing the Succession plot, the family has seemingly decided the trust’s media interests will move as a block in the slow-moving hand-over from the 91-year-old Rupert to his Gen X children. This suggests either 51-year-old Lachlan finally catches the car he’s been chasing, or it’s set up for sale post-Rupert (or maybe a bit of both).

It’s also an ongoing Marie Kondo-style decluttering, with the companies closing or selling parts of the businesses no longer bringing them joy (like that carefully curated collection of Australian regional and community newspapers shut in 2020).

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It’s the horror show storyline that should shock — think of it as the Rocky Horror “Time Warp” dance. The 2013 break-up into two separate family-controlled US companies? That was a jump to the left. Putting them back together? That’s a big step back to the right.

It will bind the media assets of the two companies far more tightly into the Fox News right-wing ecosystem, reflecting in corporate structure what’s been happening in practice: a linking of the media assets into an amplification chain for increasingly conspiratorial right-wing talking points.

The News Corp mastheads break a “news” angle that drives Fox Corp commentary. Think Hunter Biden’s laptop, launched in The New York Post; or the Wuhan lab leak kicked off in Australia’s own Daily Telegraph; or The Wall Street Journal boosting of Trump-era Justice Department’s appointment of a special counsel to investigate the so-called Steele dossier on the Russian links of then candidate Trump.

Bouncing back, News Corp Australia’s Sky News has picked up Fox Corp memes, feeding YouTube with a global third-party endorsement of, say, its “Sleepy Joe” nickname.

The 2013 split was, in part at least, a “we’re the good guys” move — helping to brand-wash the Fox-related (and largely entertainment-driven) film and television organisations from their association with the UK telephone-hacking scandal.

At the time, News wanted to strengthen cash flows with a full take-over of the UK Sky satellite broadcaster. With the split, this takeover was picked up by the new Fox Corp, while the British mastheads (The Sun and The Times) went with News Corp. The bid ended up gazumped by US competitor Comcast.)

To protect seemingly weak ad-reliant businesses, the split left News Corp with 60% of the REA Group and the pay television monopoly Foxtel. The much larger Fox Corp also underwrote News’ billion-dollar telephone-hacking costs.

Since then, both brand perception and financial stability have flipped. With the sale of its entertainment assets to Disney (including the Sydney studio rebranded as “Disney” just this month), the now much smaller Fox Corp has seen its flagship Fox News challenged by the decline of US cable (which it relies on for subscriber fees) — while also trying to wriggle through Trump’s remaking of conservative politics.

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As The New York Times described Fox News this week in a profile of CEO Suzanne Scott, it’s become “a sanctuary for conservatives where few unpleasant facts intrude and political misinformation has spread”.

Its over-eager reporting of Trump’s stolen election claims has resulted in billion-dollar defamation suits from election software companies Dominion and Smartmatic.

News Corp, with its focus on news and information, became the good guys — with high-end products like The Wall Street Journal, the London Times, and book publisher HarperCollins. It grew stronger, off-loading its US advertising business and closing its local and community Australian papers while pivoting its metropolitan and national titles to subscriptions. It added data services to its Dow Jones segment and struck multimillion-dollar deals with Google and Meta.

Since the 1950s, News has continually morphed as it cycled to the right — from its remaking of tabloid journalism in the 1960s through its punch-down weaponisation in the 1980s, into its defiant standard bearer of the right this century.

The re-merger tells us it’s evolving again, breaking free of its anchoring as a news media, suggesting instead that Fox-style conspiracy theorising will increasingly sit at the centre of its merged media.

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