Shine Group founder Elisabeth Murdoch (pictured) discussed phone-hacking, media ethics, the state of affairs at her father’s News Corporation, and the financial struggles of running an indie, in a wide-ranging keynote at the Edinburgh International Television Festival last night (August 23).
Murdoch’s MacTaggart Lecture, the 37th to be given in Edinburgh, came a year after News Corp bought out Shine in a US$671 million deal, and followed her decision to reject the opportunity to join the News Corp board.
It also came hot on the heels of a year in which the news giant became embroiled in a damaging phone-hacking row.
Addressing the elephant in the room, Murdoch said: “It’s obviously been a bit of a nightmare year for the family, and I thought it was important to stand up and be counted and talk about it a little bit.”
She called for great morality in the media industry, and distanced herself from her brother James’s MacTaggart speech of 2009, in which he said that “profit is the only guarantee of independence.”
Murdoch retorted that “profit without purpose is a recipe for disaster,” adding: “As an industry – and indeed I would say as a global society – we have become trapped in our own rhetoric.
“We need to learn how to be comfortable with articulating purpose and reject the idea that money is the only effective measure of all things or that the free market is the only sorting mechanism.”
She referred to a “dearth of integrity” across many institutions, offering that “without a common statement of purpose there is no credible answer to the Occupy Wall Street movement.”
Elsewhere, she spoke of the difficulties that many indie prodcos face in maintaining their independence while staying afloat fiscally.
“One of the things that even the greatest of indies must grapple with is how to protect our freedom while avoiding short-term profit oriented investors and the constant need to refinance or sell equity to grow,” she offered, adding that after meeting with VC investors who were clearly not interested in the TV industry: “I resolved never to be beholden to financiers with whom we were not aligned.”
“The issue is how to achieve scale and so maintain as much financial independence as you can,” she said.
And of her decision to sell Shine to News Corp in February 2011, she said that “in many ways it was the very last place I wanted to go.”
“After various considerations it became clear to me that News Corp was the best strategic home for us,” she explained. “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: News is first and foremost a content company and it believes in taking long-term investments in to creative risks: it built a fourth U.S. network; it believed in The Simpsons; it believed in Seth McFarlane; it believed in Glee; it backed James Cameron not just once but twice in the gargantuan creative endeavors of Titanic and Avatar.
“In addition News wanted Shine to provide an alternative worldview, an example of innovation from within – that’s what’s right about it.”
In looking to the future, Murdoch hit out at public service broadcasters for not doing enough to link with the digital realm. “It is astounding just how little social media functionality or e-commerce partnerships feature on any of the PSBs’ players or websites,” she said. “To my mind, this is exactly the real estate where producers and broadcasters, and the audience for that matter, have so much room for collaborative and mutually beneficial ventures together.
“Ours is a business of mutuality – all of the tribes gathered at this festival are reliant on the health of each other.”
She opened her keynote by pointing out to the audience, in a frank fashion, that she was surprised to be the first woman in 17 years to be given the honor of the MacTaggart keynote address.
“Just how much did Janet Street Porter upset the committee?” she asked. “Did you not even think about Beryl Vertue, Dawn Airey, Jana Bennett, Jane Root, Anne Sweeney, Sophie Turner Laing, maybe even the late and fabulous Andrea Wonfor?”