From relatively modest beginnings in 1923, News Limited has grown to become a founding element of one of the world’s largest and most influential global media organisations, News Corporation, itself formed in 1979.
In 2013, News Corporation was divided into 21st Century Fox and News Corp (with News Limited, renamed News Corp Australia, a subsidiary). The new News Corp’s primary interests are in publishing, including newspapers, some digital services and pay television in Australia, while 21st Century Fox holds most of the global film and television interests of the former News Corporation, including cable programming and satellite television. Rupert Murdoch is the executive chair of News Corp and the chair and CEO of 21st Century Fox. Robert Thomson is chief executive of News Corp and Chase Carey is president and chief operating officer of 21st Century Fox. In 2014, Lachlan Murdoch was named as non-executive co-chair of News Corp and 21st Century Fox, and James Murdoch was named as co-chief operating officer of 21st Century Fox. Julian Clarke replaced Kim Williams as CEO of News Corp Australia in 2013. Originally incorporated in Adelaide, from 2004, News Corporation and its successors have been incorporated in Delaware in the United States and headquartered in New York.
According to its 2013 annual report, News Corp Australia owns more than 120 newspapers, and accounts for more than 59 per cent of total circulation of newspapers in Australia. Among its major titles are the Australian and the Weekend Australian (national); the Daily Telegraph and the Sunday Telegraph (Sydney); the Herald Sun and the Sunday Herald Sun (Melbourne); the Courier-Mail and Sunday Mail (Brisbane); the Sunday Mail and Advertiser (Adelaide); the Sunday Times (Perth); the Mercury and Sunday Tasmanian (Hobart); and the Northern Territory News and Sunday Territorian (Darwin). It also has a free commuter title, mX, distributed in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, and extensive interests in community, regional and rural newspapers, such as Leader Community Newspapers in Melbourne.
In addition to its extensive newspaper interests, News Corp Australia owns 100 per cent of Fox Sports and 50 per cent of Foxtel, with Telstra owning the other 50 per cent. News Corp Australia also owns the popular residential property website, Realestate.com.au, and has investments in businesses including CarsGuide, CareerOne and Fox Sports Pulse (formerly SportingPulse). It is also a major shareholder in Australian Associated Press, Australia’s largest news agency service. Related to these interests, News Corp Australia has extensive digital products.
The history of News Limited is intimately connected with both the global rise of Rupert Murdoch and with newspapers. Rupert Murdoch’s father, Sir Keith Murdoch, and the Melbourne Herald bought into News Limited—originally founded by journalist James Edward Davidson (1870–1930)—in the 1930s. On Sir Keith’s death in 1952, Rupert Murdoch inherited the Adelaide afternoon newspaper, the News. Murdoch soon expanded his ownership of newspapers within Australia and internationally. In Australia, Murdoch’s newspaper ownership ultimately encompassed all capital cities and beyond. One of the key developments for News Limited was the creation of the Australian in 1964, based in Canberra—it was a bold step to create a national newspaper, which has since become a politically significant media outlet. Internationally, News moved overseas, including into the United Kingdom and United States. At the level of ownership and control, News Limited and now News Corp are inseparable from the Murdoch family, connected in part to a specific share ownership structure.
Over many years, News Limited has been involved in numerous public and political debates, while the company provokes sharp divisions of opinion, both in Australia and internationally. In the early 1970s, for example, Murdoch took an active role in Australian politics, actively supporting the Labor opposition’s bid to win the 1972 federal election. By 1975, however, Murdoch and his newspapers were campaigning strongly for the Dismissal of the Whitlam government. Indeed, News Limited has been a constant presence on the Australian political landscape, including in the context of debates around regulation of media ownership and content, and also in the context of technologically influenced workplace reorganisation—in particular, after the move of the newspapers of News International from Fleet Street to Wapping in Britain.
Further to this, News Limited and News Corporation have had long-term and extensive interests in sport. A highly controversial and divisive event arose in 1997, when News established the Super League as a competitor to the Australian Rugby League, with the prize focused on lucrative television rights.
Two more recent events show the continuing polarising impact of the company. First, in 2012, the Finkelstein Inquiry’s report to the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy was released, recommending the establishment of a News Media Council to set journalistic standards for news media in consultation with industry and to handle public complaints. Along with many other media companies, the response of News Limited was swift, sharp and public, with concerns being raised about the potential for such a Council to unjustly curtail the freedom of the press. Second, News came under extensive criticism for its newspaper coverage of the 2013 federal election in Australian, with many critics making claims of anti-Labor bias on the part of the company.
Extending beyond News Limited and Australia, News Corporation has been highly influential in media and politics internationally. While often creating strong links with conservative political leaders, including Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, News Corporation has also established strong links with Labour leaders, notably British Prime Minister Tony Blair. In more recent times, News Corporation has become embroiled in a range of highly controversial events, in particular the UK phone hacking scandal, focused on the now defunct News of the World. Following these events, in June 2013, the company developed and introduced an organisational Code of Ethics. Throughout these times, News Corporation has continued to innovate in a range of media contexts, including with its coverage of sport and with its news media coverage—perhaps most notably with the Fox Network in the United States.
Among many questions relating to the future of News Corp Australia, three are of particular interest. The first concerns succession plans, with Rupert Murdoch now in his eighties. The second concerns the long-term future of newspapers in the company. While Rupert Murdoch remains at the helm, it would appear that newspapers will continue to figure prominently, as Murdoch is very much a newspaper person. Whether other members of the company have the same view is open to debate. The third question relates to the long-term political influence of the company, in particular when considering scenarios in the post-Murdoch era and in the digital news media age.
News Limited and/or Rupert Murdoch have been the subject of several major book-length publications, from George Munster’s Rupert Murdoch (1985) and William Shawcross’s Murdoch (1992) to Timothy Marjoribanks’ News Corporation, Technology and the Workplace (2000) and David McKnight’s Rupert Murdoch (2012). Given the prominence of the company and the media industry, News Corp Australia will continue to attract ongoing interest from politicians, industry analysts, academic researchers and the general public.