Murdoch: ‘Trial by media’ starts as Murdoch sons pursue succession bids

The hunt for the next Australian media mogul remains in its infancy, with billionaire James Packer and billionaire David Gyngell both negotiating exit deals with Newscorp that could be worth about A$300m (£166m).

Murdoch’s media company will also be left with much less money to burn. News Corp chief executive Robert Thomson was so convinced the 81-year-old would be forced out soon that last year the Australian newspaper ran an article asking him the question: “What does Murdoch do next?”

The legal uncertainty over who will get the succession is likely to drag on for months if not years. Murdoch turns 82 in August, while his daughters – Elisabeth, Lachlan and Prudence – each have children of their own. He also has three children with his current wife, Wendi Deng, another former investment banker. A hefty salary and investment-related pension from the 1990s should allay concerns of debilitating boredom, but the real job of finding an heir will be done by a committee of five board members, which will be sought by successors rather than groomed for it. The report from Fairfax, a New York-based newspaper company the Murdoch family also controls, notes: “A succession plan has been a private matter.”

Lachlan Murdoch wants to return to media. Photograph: Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images

As the two magnates begin to secure deals for them, speculation is rife. The biggest potential play is at Sydney’s Daily Telegraph. Packer’s management team at his Tabcorp gambling company owns 19.9% of the regional newspaper publisher, which published an advertisement this week seeking a Sydney-based managing director. Packer’s best known son, James, the Australian gaming and media magnate, is also a contender to bring in his own executive team, if the right opportunities arise.

The Fairfax board has also said it will consider making a takeover offer for the Australian offices of Atlassian, the tech company valued at $14bn. Analysts said Packer, 47, would be given the chance to make a play for the UK operation, if his support for libertarianism wins him the top job at News Corp.

Packer was seen as a serious challenger to his father’s control of News Corp, the publisher of the New York Post and the Wall Street Journal, but lost his bid to join the board in 2012. Murdoch and Packer already had a contentious relationship after the Australian casino-owning tycoon spent $3bn buying into the family’s British publishing empire, then giving it control of the company and cutting News Corp out of any deals.

Sir Rupert Murdoch is battling prostate cancer. Last month, the company said he would sell the satellite business Sky to its US cable giant rival Comcast. However, he intends to stay on through to a likely takeover offer by US cable giant Walt Disney, for which the two companies have reached an agreement.

If the founder is succeeded he will lose control of the UK and Australian operations as well as a significant chunk of his $28bn fortune. There will also be a loss of control over Sky News.

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