Is Rupert Murdoch's job on the line today?

Ahead of today's Select Committee hearing, reports suggest News Corp directors may try to oust Rupert if he fails to do the business.

by James Taylor
Last Updated: 19 Aug 2013
Today's Select Committee hearing was always going to be a painful experience for Rupert Murdoch, as the News Corp boss attempts to douse the political firestorm created by the phone-hacking scandal. But Bloomberg is now reporting that if he makes a hash of it - and apparently that's quite possible, judging by his prep work - News Corp's independent directors might be emboldened to try and replace him with right-hand man Chase Carey. News Corp appears to be denying these claims furiously (and it still sounds like a long shot to us). But it only adds to the incredible pressure on the Murdochs’ shoulders ahead of this afternoon's public flogging...

Bloomberg quotes three unnamed sources as suggesting that having seen Rupert prepare for today's interrogation by MPs, they're worried about how he's going to perform. This is not entirely surprising: the octogenarian media mogul isn't exactly a regular public performer, and he certainly isn't used to facing the kind of hostile, aggressive questions about his business that he's likely to get this afternoon. Son James is much more familiar with this kind of thing, and we imagine News Corp will be hoping that he can bear the brunt. But the Committee is unlikely to let Murdoch Sr. off the hook easily - in fact they're likely to pounce on any sign of weakness.

The stakes were already incredibly high ahead of today's hearing. As well as apologising for its original misdemeanours (while, of course, denying all direct knowledge of illegality etc), the Murdochs will also have to defend their reaction to the fallout, their interactions with the police, and their links with Westminster. They'll no doubt expect to take a kicking, as the MPs engage in their usual competitive hectoring. In fact that's presumably kind of the point - that a full sackcloth-and-ashes routine will be enough to draw some of the sting out of proceedings. But there are plenty of potential pitfalls in this strategy. And according to Bloomberg at least, another public relations disaster today might be enough to persuade News Corp's independent directors that it's time to get Rupert out and Carey in.

It's hard to know how realistic a prospect this is. Reuters is quoting (presumably separate) anonymous sources as saying the exact opposite – that the independent directors remain fully supportive of Murdoch Sr – while board member Thomas Perkins told AP that: ‘The board has been misled, as has top management been misled, by very bad people at a very low level in the organization.’ So publicly at least, News Corp is still backing its boss. But if things go awry this afternoon, the whispers about his future might get a whole lot louder. And unless James plays a blinder, his position as the heir apparent may well be under threat too...

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