Lachlan Murdoch , Rupert and James Murdoch
Lachlan, Rupert and James Murdoch

James Murdoch, Rupert’s youngest son, has always been the family’s black sheep. A Harvard drop-out who set up his own hip hop record label, he had to be coaxed into News Corp in 1996. Once on board, he preferred to run his own race in far-flung parts of the empire, such as Hong Kong and London, well away from his father and older brother Lachlan.

Fast forward to 2020 and James is a free man. The US$71.3 billion sale of 21st Century Fox’s entertainment assets to Disney last year led to two seismic events: each of the adult Murdoch children scored around US$2 billion in a carve-up of the Disney pay day and James quit his executive job at the slimmed down Fox Corporation.

It now only has six directors and James isn’t one of them.

However, James did decide to stay on the board of the separately listed News Corporation. News Corp is the owner of the Australian newspaper division, Foxtel and Sky News — which together make an out-sized contribution to the Western world’s climate denialist campaigning.

All of which makes a public intervention Tuesday night from James so surprising. In a joint statement, released through a spokesperson (likely Juleanna Glover) to The Daily Beast, James and his climate activist wife Kathryn said the following:

Kathryn and James’ views on climate are well established and their frustration with some of the News Corp and Fox coverage of the topic is also well known … They are particularly disappointed with the ongoing denial among the news outlets in Australia given obvious evidence to the contrary.

What is The Australian’s editor-in-chief Chris Dore going to say about that? Is he going to launch into a male Murdoch who sits on his board, just like this editorial attacking The Guardian and The New York Times last Saturday? How does that work when the house view is split?

Lachlan Murdoch and James obviously don’t get on and, with Lachlan having all the history and heritage with the Australian newspaper division, James is clearly taking a direct and calculated shot at his older brother via The Daily Beast article. Lachlan is widely believed to share his father’s sceptical views on climate change, but has been less publicly overt about it.

News Corp has 11 directors and three of them are male Murdochs. Only one director, lead independent Peter Barnes, actually lives in Australia. He was a career Philip Morris executive so is used to being involved in denialist campaigns.

The next News Corp board meeting will be interesting to say the least. Having gone public, James will presumably push for a position change in the Australian division. Exactly how would you go about implementing that?

The likes of Andrew Bolt and Terry McCrann are fanatical denialists who would refuse to budge and would need to be removed from their posts. Alan Jones is another Sky regular who also won’t be told what to say by anyone.

Then again, everyone thought Fox News host Bill O’Reilly was untouchable and he was disappeared by the Murdochs overnight. The same happened to Fox News CEO Roger Ailes after the sexual abuse revelations rolled out. James Murdoch was instrumental in both moves.

Rupert has a long history of dispensing with former allies and moving on. He even sided with Roger Ailes in a power struggle with Lachlan back in July 2005, leading to this famous ASX announcement revealing Lachlan was resigning his executive position at News Corp but staying on the board.

It took Rupert nine years to get Lachlan back on board in a leadership position at News Corp (see the 2014 announcement) and 21st Century Fox, but at the time Lachlan also needed an out from the imploding Ten Network Holdings.

All through this period, James Murdoch was continuing an unbroken 23-year run as a full-time executive within the Murdoch empire which only ended last year.

Apart from these paparazzi shots of Rupert frolicking in Barbados with fourth wife Jerry Hall last week, we’ve seen or heard little from the 89-year-old in recent times. That was until yesterday’s $5 million in promised donations to bushfire relief. The donation statement was a big opportunity to pivot on climate change but they missed it.

The next opportunity will be after the next News Corp board meeting. Why not make James chairman of News Corp to cement the change of position on climate policy?

Don’t hold your breath about that. But these Australian bushfires are having an unprecedented global impact; just look at the Blackrock thermal coal divestment move yesterday.

It could yet overturn years of News Corp denialist campaigning as well, if James Murdoch can win the day inside the News Corp boardroom.

Is News Corp really changing its tune on climate? Let us know your thoughts by writing to [email protected]. Please include your full name to be considered for publication.