James Murdoch has castigated the US media for the “toxic politics” threatening American democracy, saying proprietors are as culpable as politicians who “know the truth but choose instead to propagate lies”.
The remarks by Rupert Murdoch’s youngest son, made in an interview with the Financial Times and a further joint statement with his wife Kathryn, are his strongest public rebuke of America’s news industry since he parted ways with the family business built by his father.
Asked whether America’s dominant conservative news network Fox News had played a role in the riot that rocked Washington last week, James Murdoch said media groups had amplified election disinformation, leaving “a substantial portion” of the public believing “a falsehood”.
“The damage is profound,” Mr Murdoch said. “The sacking of the Capitol is proof positive that what we thought was dangerous is indeed very, very much so. Those outlets that propagate lies to their audience have unleashed insidious and uncontrollable forces that will be with us for years.”
“I hope that those people who didn’t think it was that dangerous now understand, and that they stop,” he added, while noting he had not “seen any evidence of that yet”.
During the interview set up to discuss his latest digital venture in India, Mr Murdoch did not directly mention Fox News, his father, who founded it, or his brother Lachlan, the chief executive of the Fox Corporation.
Fox News did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The network has long stressed the divide between its opinion programming and news coverage.
While many Fox News hosts have championed the policy agenda of Donald Trump, the network’s journalists have often broken stories critical of the president.
James Murdoch, who was chief executive of 21st Century Fox in 2015-2019, said he was also speaking on behalf of his wife Kathryn, with whom he has charted an independent path from the conservative politics of the Murdoch empire. The couple were big donors to Joe Biden’s presidential campaign and have backed organisations fighting climate change and fake news.
Rupert Murdoch’s six children each received up to $2bn from the break-up of his media empire and the sale of his entertainment businesses to Walt Disney in 2019. Overlooked in the family succession battle, James went on to use the funds to establish Lupa Systems, an investment vehicle to build a media portfolio.
In August he withdrew completely from the family’s news operations, resigning from the board of News Corp — which owns a stable of titles ranging from the Wall Street Journal to The Sun — because of “disagreements over certain editorial content”.
While his objections are well known, until now he has been relatively guarded with public criticism. James, along with his siblings, still owns a significant share of the family trust, which people close to the Murdochs have speculated might be used to influence the direction of the empire after Rupert relinquishes control.
“Spreading disinformation — whether about the election, public health or climate change — has real world consequences,” James and Kathryn Murdoch said in a joint statement following the FT interview.
“Many media property owners have as much responsibility for this as the elected officials who know the truth but choose instead to propagate lies. We hope the awful scenes we have all been seeing will finally convince those enablers to repudiate the toxic politics they have promoted once and forever.”
When asked whether he saw signs of change, Mr Murdoch replied that he prayed people would “come to their senses” and said there was bound to be “a reckoning” for media.
Owners of news organisations, he said, were “being co-opted by forces that only want to stay in power, or are manipulating our discourse from abroad and are only too happy to make a mess and burn things down”.