'We need honesty and integrity...' Was this Liz Murdoch's pitch to take over?


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The Independent Online

Elisabeth Murdoch tonight presented herself as a champion of “honesty”, “integrity” and moral “purpose” within the famous Murdoch media dynasty which has seen its reputation besmirched by the phone hacking scandal.

Delivering the prestigious James MacTaggart Memorial Lecture to the Edinburgh International Television Festival, Ms Murdoch, 44, distanced herself from her younger brother James, 39, who has been embroiled in the hacking scandal. She disputed his words in an aggressive speech to the same audience three years ago.

James, who was seen as the heir to Rupert Murdoch's News Corp empire, had argued that the only guarantor of independence was profit but Elisabeth said he had been wrong. "Profit without purpose is a recipe for disaster," she said.

Ms Murdoch's speech will be taken as an indication that she is positioning herself within the News Corp empire as the Murdoch sibling best placed to carry forward her father's work. The British-based television company Shine Group, which she founded and leads, is now a part of News Corp, after her father's company paid £415 million for the business last year.

Discussing News Corp's recent problems she said they had come about because "some behaviours fell so far short of its values".

She said: "Personally, I believe one of the biggest lessons of the past year has been the need for any organisation to discuss, affirm, and institutionalise a rigorous set of values based on an explicit statement of purpose."

Ms Murdoch addressed the Leveson inquiry that has resulted from the hacking affair and noted that there has been "an unsettling dearth of integrity across so many of our institutions" which, she regretted, now threatens the freedom of the press.

She talked of the continued "scrutiny into our media standards and the sometimes self-serving relationships between the great institutional pillars of our society be they police, politics, media or banking".

Ms Murdoch concluded her speech by quoting the words of her father Rupert from his own MacTaggart Lecture a generation earlier, in 1989, when the mogul had talked of "freeing" broadcasting from the bureaucrats and "placing it in the hands of those who should control it - the people".

Ms Murdoch said she had learned that "vision" from her father over the family breakfast table and "even back then, I understood that we were in pursuit of a greater good - a belief in better". Those last four words mirrored the catchline of BSkyB - from which James stood down as chairman in April amid ongoing criticism of his handling of the phone hacking affair while in charge of News International, his father's British newspaper stable.

As chairman of BSkyB, James had attacked the "chilling" ambition of the BBC. His sister, who is a far more popular figure within the British television industry, took a different approach, saying she was a "current supporter" of the BBC licence fee and praising the track record of the departing Director-General Mark Thompson - James's great strategic foe - for his "vision and leadership" in positioning the organisation for future challenges in media.

Using subtler language than her confrontational brother she identified Google's YouTube and other new media platforms including Amazon, Netflix and Twitter as the threats to the established television industry and tactfully appealed to broadcasters and producers to work together for a common good. "Ours is a business of mutuality - all of the tribes gathered at this festival are reliant on the health of each other," she said.

Addressing an audience where liberal values are usually to the fore, she quoted Nelson Mandela, Aldous Huxley, Alan Bennett and Voltaire. She mildly berated the festival organisers for not having appointed a woman to give the MacTaggart since 1995.

And though she was born in Sydney and grew up mostly in New York, watching shows such as "The Brady Bunch" and "I Love Lucy", she spoke of "our great British producers" and took every chance to bathe in post-Olympics euphoria. "As our Olympians have inspired a generation so should we be inspired by our forefathers. We can be a new Britain born out of the best of the old Britain," she said.

But most of all she seemed to want to take on the baton of her own father, and to help improve his company's reputation. "A great creative organisation is like any successful community," she said. "It's a place of honesty, integrity, and an environment where curiosity and enthusiasm are the norm. It's a place that demands personal accountability, collective responsibility and true self-determination."

What she said...and what she meant

“James…left something out: the reason his statement sat so uncomfortably is that profit without purpose is a recipe for disaster.”

I am not James.

“There has been such an unsettling dearth of integrity across so many of our institutions.”

The hacking scandal was nothing to do with me.

“We would all do well to remember Voltaire’s – or even Spiderman’s - caution that ‘With great power comes great responsibility’.”

I am one of you, an intellectual with a good grasp of popular culture, and I value a moral compass before everything else, including the bottom line.

“Ours is a business of mutuality – all of the tribes gathered at this festival are reliant on the health of each other.”

I am the friendly face of the Murdoch clan.

“My dad had the vision, the will and the sense of purpose to challenge the old world order.”

Dad’s still my true hero.

“My true passion lay in the power of television to form human connections. This was my purpose.”

I may have sold my company Shine to my father’s News Corp for £415m but I’m still a programme maker at heart. 

“Platforms such as Amazon, Netflix, Zeebox, Pinterest, Twitter and Tumblr with their ubiquitous and intelligent services are all coming after our audience relationships.”

I have a strong intuition of the future of media and am ready to be a big player for News Corp on the global stage.