James Murdoch’s climate stance distances him from family empire
Criticism of denial by News Corp and Fox underlines Murdoch heir’s transformation
Wed 15 Jan 2020 19.36 GMTLast modified on Wed 15 Jan 2020 21.16 GMT
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The declaration that he and his wife, Kathryn, felt “frustration with some of the News Corp and Fox
His statement raised eyebrows, not least because until 18 months ago James was at least nominally responsible for Fox News output as boss of its parent company. He is also still a director of News Corp, which owns the family’s newspaper interests. Peter Barnes, a board member, said the board had yet to discuss the comments
But making a public stand on the issue has also helped the 47-year-old make clear to the wider world that he is heading in a different direction from the family business, as he looks to make investments in media companies with a more liberal standpoint. He has already donated
Alice Enders, of media analysts Enders, suggested Murdoch had always had a genuine and sincere concern about environmental issues throughout his career: “He and his wife believe in this so fundamentally and so strongly. They obviously believe that the media has a very important role in this.”
She added: “It’s very unusual to decide that the public domain is the best place to air a difference of views.”
The move caps a long journey for an individual who has often seemed uneasy with his enormous privilege, without ever rejecting it. After dropping out of Harvard in the mid-90s and working as a cartoonist, he helped to run the pioneering New York hip-hop record label Rawkus Records
After exiting the music industry – having sold a majority stake in Rawkus to his father – he was brought into the family business, having a brief stint advising on internet investments during the dotcom boom, followed by a spell running Asian pay-TV operator Star. But he shocked the British media scene when he was appointed as chief executive of BSkyB, a listed FTSE 100 company, at the age of 30. [image: Al Gore speaks] Facebook
It was during this time that he became increasingly concerned about climate change, inviting former US vice-president Al Gore to give a talk on the topic, and was an early convert to making businesses carbon neutral. Following a stint at the European arm of News Corp – where he was in charge as the phone-hacking scandal ravaged its newspapers and forced the closure of the News of the World – he became chief executive of 21st Century Fox
While there had been suggestions that James – until recently seen as the heir apparent – would join the combined behemoth, he instead walked away with billions of dollars. In the process, he left his brother in charge of a new, much smaller, Fox Corporation, which controls a group of television channels including Donald Trump’s favourite outlet, Fox News
Enders said that Murdoch’s approach to the environment contrasted with his father’s focus on profits at all costs. While it would be hard for the likes of Fox News to U-turn on the issue of the climate crisis, she suggested it could encourage journalists within the organisation to voice their concerns about coverage: “There’s a lot of people who are going to be standing up at News Corp meetings making these points.”
Individuals who have worked with Murdoch at BSkyB insist that his commitment to environmental issues is sincere, while also pointing to the influence of his wife, Kathryn, who put her name to the joint statement. In recent days she has used Twitter to share links to stories about investment company BlackRock putting climate change at the centre of its investment strategy and a story in the Murdoch-owned New York Post suggesting conservatives have answers to climate change.
She also linked to an article in Vice – an outlet in which James’s company recently bought a minority stake – blaming the bosses of large fossil fuel producers for the bushfires in Australia.
The piece is withering about claims that arsonists are responsible for the natural disaster unfolding in Australia, mocking “Rupert Murdoch’s rightwing media outlets” for spreading such claims, which have “been given a huge platform in the US by Donald Trump Jr and Sean Hannity” – critiquing both the president’s son and one of Fox News’s most prominent hosts.
On Wednesday it appeared that at least one part of Rupert Murdoch’s newspaper empire was listening. The Northern Territory News – one of the company’s most rambunctious tabloids – ran a front-page editorial