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As questions swirl about the fate of 21st Century Fox’s deal to sell much of its business to Disney, CEO James Murdoch on Tuesday took the stage at the Code Conference in Rancho Palos Verdes, California, but he didn’t show up to the annual event to make news.
Asked early in the talk about his post-Fox plans, Murdoch didn’t give much away. “I’m really focused on trying to land the plane,” he said of completing Fox’s decision to sell most of its assets to Disney, though he did acknowledge that he tends to switch jobs every five years or so, and “I think it’s time to do something new.”
Murdoch currently runs 21st Century Fox as CEO, but he does not have an announced role in “New Fox,” the company that will be formed after the sale. His brother, Lachlan, has been named CEO and chairman of the venture with their father, Rupert, serving as co-chairman. Reports have also suggested that James doesn’t plan to join Disney.
Last year, Disney agreed to pay $52.4 billion to acquire Fox’s film and television studio, cable networks FX and National Geographic and Fox’s regional sports networks. The deal would also include Fox’s share of Hulu and British broadcaster Sky. But the deal is far from done. After generating much speculation about its plans, Comcast announced on May 23 that it is preparing an all-cash counter offer. Fox’s board already declined Comcast’s original bid, which was higher than Disney’s offer.
Murdoch reiterated Fox’s stance on the subject, noting that “we have an agreement with Disney and we have an agreement with Disney that we find attractive for our shareholders.” He also said that Fox is “making a lot of progress” in terms of filing the required regulatory documents.
Tuesday’s talk took place hours after Fox rival ABC canceled its top performer, Roseanne, after its star Roseanne Barr tweeted a racist comment about Valerie Jarrett, who served as senior advisor to former President Barack Obama. Asked about the incident, Murdoch responded, “Well, my father gave up Twitter,” before he launched into a discussion about finding a balance between having an independent voice and being mindful of how it might affect your work. “It’s not about keeping the audience going,” he noted, adding that it’s about “the right thing to do for your company.”
Added Murdoch: “You have to decide when is somebody crossing the line. I didn’t follow the Roseanne thing closely, but clearly she crossed a certain line.”
A question from the audience about the #MeToo movement that has swept Hollywood prompted interviewer Peter Kafka to ask Murdoch about the recent issues that have come to light at Fox News, including the network’s move to pay $10 million to settle with 18 former employees over discrimination and harassment. Speaking about the broader media and the entertainment industry’s reckoning with sexual harassment, he responded, “It looks like nobody can keep their pants on. It’s unbelievable.”
Murdoch continued by noting that Fox has taken action to prevent that type of behavior. “If somebody doesn’t know now at Fox News that nothing is going to protect them if they behave that way, that would be incredibly naive,” he said, reminding the audience that Fox canceled The O’Reilly Factor after The New York Times revealed that the network had paid $13 million to settle harassment allegations brought against host Bill O’Reilly. “We made the decision,” Murdoch said. “When you lead like that, people get the message pretty quickly.”
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