Murdoch Vaudeville Act Has Senate Rolling in Aisles

26 May 2003

Rupert Murdoch is not normally known for his comedic abilities. Quite the opposite, some say.

However, the 72-year-old chairman and chief executive of News Corporation, had senators rolling in the aisles on Capitol Hill last Thursday while huckstering for regulatory approval of NewsCorp’s takeover of DirecTV.

Senators clearly have a different sense of humour to the rest of humankind, for according to the Financial Times “gales of laughter” swept the hearing after Murdoch revealed: “I have no plans for anything other than what I have before you today [DirecTV].”

Do the people’s representatives have a highly developed sense of irony? Or maybe Murdoch revealed that the mysterious initial ‘K’ that precedes Rupert stands for Keith?

Having got his laugh, K Rupert Murdoch was clearly hungry for more and followed through with the assurance that the intended $6.6 billion (€5.60bn; £4.03bn) acquisition of America’s largest satellite operation would not be detrimental either to competitors or consumers.

“DirecTV will become a more formidable competitor to cable,” Murdoch promised. “This acquisition has the potential to profoundly change the multi-channel video marketplace in the US to the ultimate benefit of all pay-TV customers.”

He dismissed consumer group fears that NewsCorp would use DirecTV to crowbar cable operators into paying higher rates for its programmes. This, said Murdoch, would be “absolutely impossible” because the group did not have sufficient market power. NewsCorp’s submission to the Federal Communications Commission offered guarantees for programming access.

At least one member of his audience remained straight-faced. Said Consumers Union director Gene Kimmelman: “Mr Murdoch owns a programming juggernaut,” and alleged the hiking of programme prices was the media mogul’s primary purpose in acquiring DirecTV.

[Next week on Capitol Hill: Sumner M Redstone on Mothers-in-Law.]

Data sourced from: Financial Times; additional content by WARC staff