Rupert Murdoch insists that the decision to split publishing away from the rest of the News Corp empire has nothing to do with the hacking scandal.
But nonetheless, it is difficult not to be reminded of Richard Nixon’s last press conference when looking at the announcement. The disgraced US president memorably told the press: “you don’t have Nixon to kick around any more”.
And similarly, after a year in which Murdoch has faced a savage backlash from the politicians who spent so long courting him, he appears to be withdrawing from interest in the UK altogether.
Asked by US-based broadcaster Fox News whether he was pulling back from the UK he said: “No, but I would be a lot more reluctant to invest in new things in Britain today than I would be here.”
I’ve always defended Murdoch because of the huge amount he has invested in British journalism. There was something comforting about the fact that hundreds of millions made on films like Avatar were helping prop up the brilliant but massively loss-making journalism of The Times. Not any more.
Announcing the break-up of News Corp last week, he revealed he would not tolerate print losses anywhere: “Each newspaper will be expected to pay its way”.
The published accounts suggest Times Newspapers lost £12m in the year to July 2011, £45m in the year before that and £88m in the year previous to that. But the true figure could be even higher because the figures that reach Companies House provide only a partial account.
It is tempting to conclude that Murdoch subsidised his UK press operations to an extent because of the political clout they gave him, and now that clout has gone forever, he is going to run on them on less sentimental lines.
He will be chairman of both News Corp divisions but only chief executive of the entertainment division, which makes ten times as much money as the publishing side. This means that he must be planning to reduce his hands-on involvement in The Sun, Times, Sunday Times, Wall Street Journal and Australian titles.
Interviewed by Press Gazette seven years ago, Murdoch (then 74) appeared concerned about his legacy. He spoke about his pride at the union-smashing move to Wapping in 1986 which he said was an “absolute turning point for Fleet Street and the whole of the newspaper industry…I’m very proud of it and it will be part of my legacy.”
It now looks like Murdoch’s hands-on launch of the Sunday edition of The Sun in March was his last throw of the dice in the UK newspaper market. It is a remarkable story which began with his acquisition of the 6 million-selling News of the World in 1968 and which may now conclude with the sell-off of the unrivalled newspaper empire he has built up.
Newspapers, and journalism operations full-stop, always seem to do better when they are run by someone with a long-term vision which extends far beyond the immediate bottom line. Hence the success of the likes of Murdoch and Rothermere versus the managed decline at Trinity Mirror and Express Newspapers where titles appear to be seen as short-term cash generators.
If that ethos is now to extend to the NI titles, then Murdoch’s exit from the UK journalistic stage will be a sad day for Fleet Street.
This article first appeared in Press Gazette.