Murdoch on the Fragile Future of Newspapers

It was a surreal chapter in the Leveson inquiry. In a break from barrister Robert Jay's forensic inquiry, questions were temporarily suspended and Rupert Murdoch was allowed to wax lyrical on the future of newspapers and the media. Although this was not the primary purpose of the session it was still gripping to watch the most powerful media mogul on the planet discuss how news delivery may evolve. He is clearly worried about the prospects for print. He referred to the fact that newspapers, which he described as a "huge benefit to society," now usually lose money and if anyone has inside knowledge about how papers are currently faring, Rupert Murdoch does.

Whilst Murdoch has a reasonable level of understanding of new platforms -- he did after all join Twitter on New Year's Eve -- it was clear from his observations that he finds many of the prospects of changes in technology bewildering. He constantly referred to the internet as a disruptive technology. "I prefer the tactile experience of reading a newspaper," he said. "Other people prefer the news on a smart telephone." He recognizes the astonishing growth in mobile devices: "In a very short time there will be billions of tablets in the world." In the face of that growth in Murdoch's estimation the printed newspaper is in the midst of a huge crisis and has maybe only 20 years left. By this time they will have dwindled to "very small circulations," too small probably to be commercially viable. It is something he does not relish. "It will be a sad day if newspapers disappear... I don't know that they can be saved."

Murdoch, whilst being complimentary about the BBC, also sees the UK's national broadcaster as a major state-funded threat to the future of an independent commercial press. By deduction that means he sees them as a threat to his own News International papers. "The BBC is by far the greatest force in media in this country." He noted that the BBC had been active early in developing a digital presence and cited the presence of BBC News as "one of the reasons newspapers are in decline." Rupert Murdoch is also clearly vexed by the market control that Apple exerts on the emerging news delivery business. He took aim the 30% revenue share that they take from News Internationals iPad and iPhone editions. "But that's another matter," he said.

At the core of Murdoch's discussion about the challenges faced by 'dead wood' media was a rallying cry against the rising tide of newspaper regulation. It will come as a surprise to very few that Murdoch still doesn't care for it too much. Much greater regulation of the press is a likely, perhaps inevitable outcome of Leveson. Murdoch believes greater regulation, perhaps even any, will disadvantage the press in the face of growing and disparate digital media channels. He doesn't believe digital news channels can be effectively regulated: "People can send their blogs from Beijing or The Cayman Islands and whatever you do you can't regulate that."