Rise of Rupert Murdoch

Rupert Murdoch was born in 1931, the son of a leading Australian journalist and newspaper proprietor. He went to Oxford and got his first taste of Fleet Street at the Daily Express.

However, when he was 22 his father died and he returned to Australia to rebuild and expand the family business, buying and launching new newspapers and acquiring interests in television.

In 1969 Murdoch acquired the News of the World, his first British newspaper, after a battle with rival proprietor Robert Maxwell. Later the same year he bought The Sun, whose publishers also owned the Daily Mirror. To help secure the sale, print unions at The Sun agreed lower than normal staffing levels and the paper became the stablemate of the News of the World.

Murdoch and his editors transformed The Sun which had been an ailing pro-Labour paper. It became a commercial success but it was also highly controversial because of its page-three topless models, its aggressively jingoistic reporting of the Falklands War and its enthusiastic support for Margaret Thatcher, the new Tory Prime Minister who was elected in May 1979.

In 1981 Murdoch bought The Times and The Sunday Times that were based in Gray’s Inn Road and had been owned by Lord Thomson of Fleet’s International Thomson Organisation. For almost a year between 1978 and 1979 these titles had been suspended following a dispute over new technology and staffing levels.

Following the sale Murdoch secured union agreement to move to a photocomposition process. But after he removed Harold Evans as editor of The Times there were fears for that paper’s editorial independence.

The Sunday Times that had built a reputation for powerful investigative journalism, was later encouraged by Murdoch to publish what turned out to be fake Hitler diaries. This severely damaged the newspaper’s credibility.

Andrew Neil, the new editor of The Sunday Times, became a supporter of Eddy Shah, a provincial free-sheet newspaper publisher who had won a bitter dispute with the NGA by using Thatcher’s new industrial relations laws. Neil encouraged Shah to launch a new national paper, Today, as a way of weakening Fleet Street unions. Murdoch bought the newspaper from Shah in 1998 and closed it in 1995. Ten years later, to compete with Associated Newspapers’ free newspaper success, Metro, Murdoch launched a free London evening newspaper, but was quickly forced to close it having lost millions of pounds.

Meanwhile, Murdoch was continuing to expand his empire in the United States. Increasingly he was dependent on his cash flow rising well above the £47 million profit made in 1985 by his British newspapers to finance plans to monopolise the media on both sides of the Atlantic.