Murdoch, at 80, faces biggest battle of his career

15th July 2011, Comments 0 comments

Australian-born media mogul Rupert Murdoch turned 80 this year but his eventful life and career now present him with a widening crisis over a phone-hacking scandal facing both British and US probes.

Murdoch took the explosive step of killing off his 168-year-old News Of The World after a furore in Britain over claims the paper hacked the phones of a murdered teenager, relatives of other murdered children, victims of the London bombings and the families of soldiers killed in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The media baron condemned as "deplorable and unacceptable" the allegations and has promised full cooperation with the police.

In the United States, the FBI says it is looking into claims that News Corp employees may have targeted the phone records of September 11 victims.

The furore among the British public and politicians over the hacking allegations there forced him to withdraw his controversial bid to take full control of satellite broadcaster BSkyB.

Yet observers of the billionaire father-of-six, who has spent a lifetime building his News Corp. empire from a single Adelaide afternoon paper, say he still has plenty of life left in him.

"I think anyone who is looking forward to Rupert's retirement will be very disappointed. Rupert, far from winding down... he's winding up," Australian journalist and author Hugh Lunn said ahead of the tycoon's birthday last March.

"He is getting bigger -- it shows you what you can still do even when you're in your eighties," said Lunn, who worked for Melbourne-born Murdoch for 17 years.

Comments on his age are reportedly unwelcome, but Murdoch has crammed much into his eight decades -- creating a business with interests stretching from Australia to Europe, the United States, Asia and Latin America.

Born into a patrician family headed by his newspaper proprietor father, Sir Keith Murdoch, he is frequently reviled by critics who slam his politically conservative dominance of the global news market and blame him for the excesses of tabloid media.

But he is in equal measure revered by many of his staff and respected by opponents. Acquisition and expansion, and a formidable capacity to manage debt, as well as a willingness fight and win battles, have characterised his career.

Out of his Australian newspaper assets, including his launching of the national broadsheet The Australian in 1964, grew a global media empire.

He then moved to London and his purchase of the News of the World in 1969 gave him a high-profile foothold in the British market. He went on to buy The Sun, which he turned into a popular and hugely profitable tabloid.

The success of his London-based newspapers helped finance his 1981 purchase of The Times and Sunday Times, both prestigious broadsheets, in an acquisition that met with intense opposition from parts of Britain's establishment.

The takeover's eventual approval, however, turned him into the country's most powerful press proprietor.

In the 1980s, he fought a bitter industrial dispute over his decision to move his papers from their traditional home in Fleet Street to new headquarters in Wapping where electronic production allowed him to slash staff.

Murdoch has always moved around the world to be near his business interests. From Britain, he relocated to the United States where more bold acquisitions followed and where he became a naturalised US citizen in 1985.

By 2010, his News Corp. boasted assets of US$57 billion and annual revenues of about US$33 billion across its television, book publishing, Internet and newspaper businesses, including conservative US media outlets such as Fox television and the Wall Street Journal.

Murdoch, three-times married, has never diversified out of the media business and is seen as a newsman at heart, with even adversaries admitting that he "has ink in his veins".

The media proprietor has always surprised, and is noted for a tendency to turn up unannounced in his offices around the world.

"He turns up unexpectedly at your desk," Lunn said. "And Rupert asks you questions... or else he says, 'What's the circulation of your opposition paper?'"

Murdoch is undoubtedly the biggest media name in his home country. He launched The Australian, the country's first national title in 1964, and dominates newspapers, Internet and cable television.

But as his mother Dame Elisabeth Murdoch, who turned 102 in February, has said, wealth and influence are not everything to everyone.

She said she tells people: "I say, 'I am very proud of him because he's a good father and a good son.' And that's what I'm proud of. Not so proud of his wealth."

© 2011 AFP

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