James Murdoch’s resignation is window dressing.
He appears not to be leaving the Murdoch Family Trust, the entity which effectively controls both News Corp and Fox Corporation, including Fox News, the home of many a nutty, if not downright dangerous, thought about climate and Black Lives Matter, among other issues.
The trust profit from income from News, Fox Corporation and the biggest single shareholding in Disney, which bought billions of assets from Fox in 2018-19. At the time, James received US$2 billion from the sale.
If past form is anything to go by, it is also doubtful he has been struck down by some major question of morality or principle.
A decade ago, he sat on top of News International in the UK in the days when phone hacking was an every day event for the company’s British tabloids, especially the News of the World. Yet, he failed to own up to and take responsibility for it. Ofcom, the UK media regulator, concluded that he “repeatedly fell short of the conduct to be expected of him as a chief executive officer and chairman”.
Nor did James take a stand on the sexual harassment and racism at 21st Century Fox (he was chief executive officer at Fox from 2015 to 2019) until the late Fox News head Roger Ailes was exposed as a harasser and enabler in 2016.
Publicly, he did not take a stand on an issue at all.
James does seem intent on forging his own way in the media and the arts.
Since quitting Fox Corp in 2019, he’s bought a small shareholding in the shrinking Vice media, a news brand focused on youth and entertainment in which News and then 21st Century Fox were early shareholders.
In August, a consortium headed by him bought a controlling stake in Tribeca Enterprises which owns the Tribeca Film Festival and a film studio.
He also invested in Artists, Writers & Artisans, a new comics publisher founded by former Marvel executives.
And he has promised to invest US$111 million in buying a 44% stake in Swiss based M.C.H. Group, the owners of the Art Basel fairs.
His departure is also well-timed. It comes less than week before News Corp releases what will be one of its worst results in its short seven-year history as a spin-off from the old Murdoch empire. They are scheduled for early Friday morning,
News is expected to post a huge loss for the fourth quarter and for 2019-20, following write-downs on the value of Foxtel revealed in the March quarter report and other assets totalling more than US$1 billion.
There will be further write-downs in the value of its Australian and UK papers after hundreds of jobs were cut in the June quarter (and continue).