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Rupert Murdoch considers merger of two halves of his business empire

A merger of News Corp. and Fox Corp. would put Fox News and Fox Sports back under the same corporate roof as publishing titles like the Wall Street Journal

Rupert Murdoch, center, with his sons Lachlan, left, and James in 2013. (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

Rupert Murdoch finalized his divorce from his fourth wife, Jerry Hall, in August. But the two halves of his business empire are exploring a union.

News Corp., which owns publishing titles including the Wall Street Journal, the New York Post and the London-based Sun tabloid, and Fox Corp., which encompasses Fox News and Fox Sports, said Friday evening that they are exploring a potential merger at the behest of Murdoch and his family’s trust.

The two companies said they have each formed a special committee to review the proposal.

The Murdoch family trust owns about 40 percent of the voting stakes in both News Corp. and Fox Corp. — and any combination would amount to something of a corporate reunion.

The two entities shared a governing structure until a split engineered in 2013 in response to a major scandal that rocked some of Murdoch’s London papers. Revelations that their journalists had been hacking into the voice mails of celebrities and other tabloid targets prompted overlapping criminal and civil investigations and government inquiries that found systemic corruption in the British tabloid industry — a potential threat to Murdoch’s empire.

At the time, Murdoch billed the split as a move that would “enable each company and its division to recognize their full potential — and unlock even greater long-term shareholder value.”

But it was accompanied by a measure of Murdoch family drama. Rupert Murdoch’s younger son, James, left his role as CEO of their European and Asian businesses — including the London tabloids. He eventually became CEO of the entertainment company 21st Century Fox. But he ended up clashing over business strategy with his older brother, Lachlan, who had been elevated to executive co-chairman of the company.

Eventually, their father decided to remove the company he had spent his life building from their mutual strife.

In 2019, the Murdochs closed a $71.3 billion sale of most of 21st Century Fox — which also included the FX cable network, Fox Searchlight label and National Geographic properties — to Disney.

While James Murdoch left his executive roles with the sale, Lachlan elected to stay and run the parts of the company that remained under Murdoch control, including Fox News, Fox TV stations and Fox Sports. In summer 2020, James left the family business altogether, acknowledging “disagreements over certain editorial content published by the company’s news outlets and certain other strategic decisions” — a statement viewed as his commentary over Fox News’s increasingly conservative bent.

Lachlan Murdoch told Fox investors in 2019 that the family had no plans to combine the companies, but Rupert Murdoch raised the possibility of reuniting them in recent weeks, according to people who have spoken directly to him and who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.

The eldest Murdoch told these people that he believes that a merger will give the combined companies a greater ability to negotiate and do business with behemoths such as Netflix, Amazon and Disney.

In its announcement, News Corp. said the special committee “has not made any determination with respect to any such potential combination at this time, and there can be no certainty that the Company will engage in such a transaction.” Both companies said they didn’t plan to comment further.

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