The Murdoch media dynasty has a new line of succession

One big happy family
One big happy family
Image: Reuters/Rick Wilking
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Lachlan Murdoch is back in line to get the keys to his father Rupert’s media empire.

Overnight, the 42-year-old Sydney-based businessman and prodigal son was appointed “non-executive co-chairman” of the two media conglomerates controlled by his father, News Corp and the 21st Century Fox Group.  (Last year, Murdoch senior separated his vast media empire into two separate vehicles: News Corp owns print assets such as the Wall Street Journal, the New York Post, and some Australian pay TV and online media interests; and the 21st Century Fox Group owns his Hollywood film studios and cable TV stations such as Fox News.)

Lachlan resigned from a senior role at the pre-split News Corp in 2005 and had distanced himself further from the company by selling his non-voting stock in 2009. The New York Times attributed the resignation to “Lachlan’s feeling, which he expressed to several people close to him, that his father interfered in his business dealings and undermined him, particularly over the last 18 to 24 months.”

Apparently, something has changed since then. “I’m looking forward to working more closely than ever with my father,” Lachlan said in a statement issued by the company.

The new order of succession may also reflect the travails his younger brother James has encountered of late. James, who was considered the man most likely to succeed Rupert, was badly damaged by the UK phone hacking scandal. He was running News Corp’s UK publishing unit at the time. He has denied any direct knowledge of the hacking activities, which ultimately forced the closure of the News of the World, the biggest selling tabloid in England.

Meanwhile, Lachlan’s stock has gone up after some profitable Australian investments in a radio company and an online real estate business (even if his most ambitious investment in an broadcast network there hasn’t gone well).

James was also promoted, to the role of co-chief operating officer of 21st Century Fox. That apparently puts him on an equal footing with Chase Carey, the highly regarded (and splendidly mustached) executive known as Rupert’s “right hand man,” who has long been considered the man pulling the strings at Fox. The move gives James a hands-on role in his fathers most profitable and important media businesses.

But Lachlan’s elevation caps a remarkable return, and suggests that he will play a key role in the family’s media empire for years to come.