More than half a century after taking over his father’s Australian media business, Rupert Murdoch has built a media empire with unparalleled reach. But his ability to grow his holdings has been aided every step of the way by big money and bad policies.
A brief look at Murdoch’s march towards media consolidation highlights the ways in which he has consistently bent the rules, broken the law or simply made up new policies to build his media empire and get what he wants. It also offers a glimpse of where he might take the Wall Street Journal in the future.
In the Beginning
In the 1950s and 1960s, Murdoch launched his career as a media mogul. He began with the takeover of his father’s company, News Ltd., and then bought Sydney’s Daily Mirror and Sunday Mirror. Four years later he launched the Australian, Australia’s first daily newspaper. During this period, Murdoch also bought London’s Sun, turning it into a tabloid.
Murdoch Arrives in the US
Murdoch arrived in the U.S. newspaper market in the 1970s, buying up the San Antonio Express and the San Antonio News (which he merged and then sold off in 1993). Three years later, he acquired the New York Post – once again transforming a reputable news source into a tabloid rag.
The 1980s were a period of major growth for Murdoch. In 1985, Murdoch became a U.S. citizen – a prerequisite to purchasing interests in U.S. television broadcasting. The next year, he purchased Metromedia, giving him control over television stations across the country. Murdoch then added the Times and Sunday Times in England, and the Chicago Sun-Times to his newspaper holdings (he later sold the Chicago Sun-Times because of cross ownership issues).
The FCC Investigates
In the early 1990s, the Federal Communications Commission launched an investigation into Murdoch’s News Corp. for its breach of media ownership rules. His television and newspaper purchases in the United States had put Murdoch in breach of cross-ownership laws.
Murdoch responded by mounting an enormous lobbying effort focused on the FCC and Congress – using intimidation and backroom deals to push through his agenda. Although the FCC found News Corp. in violation, Murdoch escaped unscathed and did not have to sell off any of his media properties.
During this time, Murdoch’s Fox Television network expanded dramatically when he purchased one-fifth of New World Communications. And in an effort to compete with CNN, Murdoch launched the 24-hour Fox News Channel.
Murdoch, Money, and Media Policy
By the late 1990s, Murdoch was investing heavily in the U.S. political process. The New York Times reported that, “Since 1997 Rupert Murdoch’s family and the News Corporation’s political action committees and its employees have given at least $4.76 million in federal campaign contributions.” The New York Times also revealed that Murdoch has paid an estimated $11 million to a fleet of lobbyists over the past 10 years.
In 2003, Congress was on the verge of setting new ownership limits that would have forced Murdoch to break up parts of his media empire. However, Murdoch — in collaboration with other broadcasters — mounted a dramatic lobbying effort. In the end, Congress increased the ownership limits so that one company could reach as much as 39 percent of American homes –the exact percentage Fox was reaching at that time.
Reforming the Media – Rolling Back Murdoch
Murdoch’s ability to grow his media empire – culminating in his latest purchase of the Wall Street Journal — is a stark reminder that our media policies are broken, and only public participation can fix them. We need to make our mark on this timeline, reinstating the vital public protections envisioned by America’s founders.
The Bancroft’s decision to sell to Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. proves that a truly free press won’t emerge through business deals. Only through public input and good policy will be foster the kind of diverse and vibrant media that will serve our communities and enrich our democracy.