James Murdoch

Freed — or rather, soon to be separated — from the family companies, current CEO of 21st Century Fox James Murdoch practically burst into song at the Code 2018 media conflab on Wednesday.

The man who was once in line to be king, who brought you the News of the World phone hacking scandal (by doing nothing about it for years as chair of News UK), had a view on quite a number of things. He spoke about the Disney deal with Fox; Netflix and Facebook; the #MeToo movement; the cancellation of Roseanne by rival ABC; and Bill O’Reilly, formerly Fox News’ most watched host who was “let go” last year after revelations that he paid US$32 million to settle sexual harassment claims (after previously paying at least $9 million to settle others).

Despite this, when asked about the spate of harassment cases at Fox News, Murdoch tried to brush off the company’s record.

You look at all of this crazy stuff in the news industry… It looks like nobody can keep their pants on. It’s unbelievable … If somebody doesn’t know now at Fox News that nothing is going to protect them if they behave that way, that would be incredible to me.

Look at the #MeToo stuff. Little things like changing our policies around where you can have certain kinds of meetings and how many people have to be there — you hate to have to micromanage that, but if you can guarantee that you’re not going have casting meetings in hotels with only one person in it, then you’re probably going to eliminate the opportunity for abuse across a pretty broad swathe. That’s our goal.

On his own plans, Murdoch was more cagey.

Man, every five years or so I sort of do something newish. I’m really focused on trying to land the plane. The right time, I’ll think about something new, but I don’t really know yet. I’m 100% focused on getting the work [at Fox] done.

But not a hint about what he will do once the plane (the deal with Disney) has touched down. He did go so far as to note that Comcast might try to swoop in and make an offer, probably trying to sell its Fox assets to Disney for Disney shares.

We have an agreement with Disney which we find very attractive for our shareholders. It’s an all-stock agreement … When you weigh up of those factors, that’s really what we thought was the right thing to do. Now whether or not the board is asked to consider a different offer from somebody else in the future, we’ll deal with that as we go. We have responsibilities to our shareholders. We know what those are.

What he didn’t mention is that the Murdoch family wants a share deal to limit the tax burden on the Family Trust. Non-family shareholders, who would like cash for their scrip, can go jump.

He may be acting like everybody’s friend, but James is a Murdoch to the end, tap dancing to obfuscate the truth.