Three years after her brother James Murdoch delivered the keynote MacTaggart Lecture at the Edinburgh TV Festival, Elisabeth Murdoch put her own mark on the event Thursday evening. The first woman to deliver the address in 17 years, she said in her opening remarks that being asked to give the speech was an honor and “a massive pain in the ass.” However, she allowed, “Writing a MacTaggart has been quite a welcome distraction from some of the other nightmares much closer to home. Yes, you have met some of my family before – the committee may be less than keen on women, but by god, you do love a Murdoch.” She spoke fondly of her background and her family – while taking a dig here and there – and also addressed some of the issues facing News Corp, which owns the Shine production group that she founded in 2001, as well as calling out her brother and urging her peers to connect with their audience.
Of her somewhat controversial decision to sell Shine to News Corp. last year, Murdoch said, “After various considerations it became clear to me that News Corp. was the best strategic home for us. Now, I can almost hear you thinking ‘No shit, Sherlock,’ but in many ways it was the very last place I wanted to go. I really hadn’t spent 12 years on my own just to do what was expected of me. But there was, and still is, irresistible logic to it.”
“Obviously News is also a company that is currently asking itself some very significant and difficult questions about how some behaviors 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 organization to discuss, affirm and institutionalize a rigorous set of values based on an explicit statement of purpose.”
Espousing her belief that getting close to the consumer is key, Murdoch noted the progress of YouTube, which is “beginning to behave like a market leader.” She urged her peers, “Let’s not be like the broadcast networks in the United States and come late again to the party that other people are having with our audience. Like All3Media or Fremantle, we must all be creating direct-to-audience channels using the platforms, developing networks, gaining the experience and learning the skills of audience development.”
Referring to her brother, James’ incendiary MacTaggart speech in 2009 when he attacked the BBC and regulator Ofcom, she said, “James ended his lecture with a line in which he claimed that the only reliable and perpetual guarantor of independence is profit. He clearly intended the statement to be provocative, and it is, but I also think that it deserves further analysis. James was right that if you remove profit, then independence is massively challenged, but I think that he left something out. The reason his statement sat so uncomfortably is that profit without purpose is a recipe for disaster… Profit must be our servant, not our master.”
Finally, on scrutiny into the UK media that was brought about by the scandals at News Corp’s papers, she said, “Let’s see what the Leveson Inquiry recommends, but when there has been such an unsettling dearth of integrity across so many of our institutions, it is very difficult to argue for the right outcome – which must be the fierce protection of a free press and light touch media regulation. Sadly the greatest threats to our free society are too often from enemies within”. The complete text of Murdoch’s speech can be found here.
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