Stephen Glover: The 'Sun King' is 77 and he can't go on for ever. But can his children keep the empire?

What will happen to Rupert Murdoch's vast media empire when he dies, or goes senile? According to a new biography of the tycoon by Michael Wolff published this week, there could be a deadlock among his children, who will control the trust that owns 38 per cent of News Corp.

Mr Wolff reveals an agreement which gives voting control over the trust to Mr Murdoch's four eldest children – James, Lachlan, Elisabeth and Prudence. He suggests that "a two-to-two vote means absolute deadlock in the affairs of one of the world's largest companies". According to a family friend quoted in the Financial Times, however, the four children do not believe they need "legal deadlock provisions" and will always be able to thrash out their differences. Maybe they will. Or maybe they won't.

Murdoch also has two young children by his third wife, Wendi – Grace, aged seven, and Chloe, aged five. Mr Wolff quotes Mr Murdoch as saying that Grace and Chloe might acquire votes in the trust "when they are 25 or 30 or something". Wendi seems a pretty hard nut, and will certainly be pushing for her offspring to acquire the same rights as the media tycoon's four elder children by his two earlier marriages.

One way or another there is certainly scope for conflict and disagreement. The elder four could split two-two on important issues. The younger children might be a disruptive force if they acquire votes, though they would be outvoted if the other four stick together. Perhaps one of the world's largest media companies will be controlled by feuding siblings, a real-life version of those rollicking 1980s soap operas Dallas and Dynasty.

But is it realistic to suppose that the children can maintain control of News Corp with their 38 per cent stake? Rupert Murdoch does so by being Rupert Murdoch. Through force of will and charm and ruthlessness, he is the person who has put together this sprawling and ramshackle empire ranging from The Sun to the Wall Street Journal to the publisher HarperCollins to Star TV in Asia. He alone makes sense of it. But even he has had to fight interlopers wanting to seize control of News Corp, most famously a businessman John Malone, eventually seen off last year.

Is it really likely that the children – presumably with James Murdoch as chairman and chief executive of News Corp – will be able to keep this empire intact? In Britain all the great newspaper dynasties have fallen apart except for the Daily Mail and General Trust, still run by Lord Rothermere, whose great, great uncle Lord Northcliffe started the Daily Mail. He is able to maintain control of the British-based DMGT through his own shareholding, but can four or six Murdoch children hold together a much larger transnational media company?

I very much doubt it, though obviously no one can predict the rate of disintegration after Mr Murdoch's demise. The subject is not an academic one. The "Sun King" is 77, which even today is a fair age for the head of a vast company. Many observers are so awed by Mr Murdoch's achievements that they somehow assume that he will go on for ever. He won't.

In his biography Mr Wolff paints a portrait of a man in some ways still at the height of his powers who operates by a kind of gut instinct while having a weak grip on the past. In an article in last week's Spectator, Mr Wolff wrote: "Most men of accomplishment ... cherish all their achievements. Murdoch hardly remembers his. The past has receded. He cuts himself off from it. In conversation he often loses or transposes decades. This is partly age. More to the point, he obviously has no use for memory."

Only "partly age", perhaps, but this is a description of a man who alone holds the key to the vast, mysterious empire he has created, and cannot explain to any other mortal how, or why, it works.

Independent's move to Kensington is a show of faith in the paper's future

Much ink has been spilt recently on the subject of The Independent's future during these appalling economic times. Will Sir Tony O'Reilly hang on to it? Does it even have a future? My esteemed colleague Roy Greenslade has even made the lunatic suggestion that the paper go entirely online, apparently unaware that the internet produces very little revenue and a newspaper which existed only in that sphere would be unable to support a large journalistic staff.

Last Friday's announcement that the two Independent titles are relocating to Northcliffe House in Kensington, headquarters of the Daily Mail, suggests to me that Sir Tony has no immediate plans to sell. Rather, there is a hard-headed attempt to reduce costs.

A couple of weeks ago, cuts of £10m were announced. The move to Northcliffe House will produce further savings, as well as putting some useful cash in the pocket of Associated Newspapers, publisher of the Daily Mail, the Mail on Sunday and the London Evening Standard, which happens to have spare office space. These titles and the Independent papers will share back-office services such as switchboard, security and canteen facilities (which I can personally vouch are not bad). Further down the line one can imagine Associated printing and distributing the Independent titles. Commercially and editorially, however, they will remain separate.

Will there be some high-minded Independent journalists who will not relish passing the bust of Lord Northcliffe, founder of the Daily Mail, every day? I hope not. They might like to know that my old comrade-in-arms Andreas Whittam Smith, the founding editor of this newspaper, once said to me that "Northcliffe was of course the greatest of them all". Surely they will see the benefits of sharing services with what is probably Britain's best-run publishing company. And they can hardly deny the advantages of working in pleasant offices in High Street Kensington, rather than the current much less agreeable premises in Docklands.

Three weeks ago, I undertook, in the event of the Daily Mail and General Trust, Associated's parent company, buying the Independent titles, to eat a copy of the Daily Mail and a copy of The Independent in front of witnesses, my only proviso being that I could choose any proprietary sauce or garnish. I think my wager is safe. I do not propose even to nibble a features page by way of experiment.

The future, of course, may yield more interesting developments. What can be said now is that the owners and management of the Independent titles evidently believe in their future.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe C-Word, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Danny Jones was in the Wales squad for the 2013 World Cup
rugby leagueKeighley Cougars half-back was taken off after just four minutes
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
Life and Style
The original ZX Spectrum was simple to plug into your TV and get playing on
techThirty years on, the ZX Spectrum is back, after a fashion
Tiger Woods and Lindsey Vonn are breaking up after nearly three years together
peopleFormer couple announce separation in posts on their websites
Life and Style
Google celebrates Bartolomeo Cristofori's 360th birthday
techGoogle Doodle to the rescue
Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’
tvThe Enfield Haunting, TV review
The Mattehorn stands reflected in Leisee lake near Sunnegga station on June 30, 2013 near Zermatt, Switzerland
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: Database Executive - Leading Events Marketing Company - London

£23000 - £25000 per annum + 25 days holidays & pension: Ashdown Group: Databas...

Recruitment Genius: Publishing Assistant

£14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for a...

Guru Careers: Graduate Account Executive / Digital Account Executive

£20k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Graduate Digital Account Exec ...

Guru Careers: Print Project Manager

Competitive (DOE): Guru Careers: A Print Project Manager is needed to join one...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living