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Murdochs say the positioning of Fox News won’t change with new leadership

Megyn Kelly

Fox News Channel prime-time anchor Megyn Kelly in New York on May 5.

(AP)

Fox News may have lost its longtime leader Roger Ailes, but the channel’s brand identity won’t be changing under his replacement.

That was the message from Lachlan and James Murdoch, the top executives at Fox News parent 21st Century Fox, who addressed Ailes’ departure during the company’s call with Wall Street analysts Wednesday.

“There’s no desire or need to shift the position that it has in the market,” said 21st Century Fox Executive Chairman Lachlan Murdoch. “It’s a very successful business and we’re just undergoing a transition to new leadership.”

Fox News has been the most-watched cable news channel since 2002 and is a money-making machine for 21st Century Fox, generating more than $1 billion in annual profits. Under the firm guidance of Ailes, a former Republican media consultant, Fox News built a loyal audience of viewers who seek news coverage accompanied by strong conservative commentary.

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Ailes resigned from Fox News on July 21 amid charges of sexual harassment. Former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson filed suit against Ailes on July 6, saying Ailes sabotaged her career in retaliation for rebuffing his sexual advances.

An internal investigation conducted by law firm Paul, Weiss turned up similar complaints from past and present female employees at Fox News, although no details have been disclosed by 21st Century Fox. Fox News Channel’s star prime time anchor Megyn Kelly confirmed through her attorney that she cooperated in the investigation and reportedly complained about past behavior by Ailes, who has denied all allegations made against him.

The Murdochs did not directly address Ailes or the investigation but referred to their recent actions in their opening remarks on the analysts call.

“Throughout this process, we have moved quickly and decisively to protect the business, to protect its employees and to protect the unique and important voice Fox News broadcasts,” Lachlan Murdoch said.

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They expressed confidence in their father Rupert Murdoch, the 85-year-old 21st Century Fox executive chairman who replaced Ailes on an interim basis.

“There is no one more dedicated or more able to transition Fox News to new leadership than its founder,” Lachlan Murdoch said. “As acting CEO, he joins an existing team that is extraordinarily strong and equally devoted to its success.”

While there has been no timetable set for naming a permanent replacement for Ailes, the consensus in the TV news industry is that the Murdochs will wait until after the presidential election in November.

Lachlan Murdoch noted that Fox News is scoring its highest ratings ever in 2016, staving off its competitor CNN, which has seen significant audience growth during the presidential campaign season.

Increases in cable TV affiliate revenue and advertising sales helped 21st Century Fox post better than expected earnings of 45 cents a share for the quarter. Wall Street had expected 37 cents a share. Total net income jumped to $567 million from $87 million. The company also announced an 20% increase in its semi-annual stock dividend, raising it to 18 cents.

 

 

 

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stephen.battaglio@latimes.com

Twitter: @SteveBattaglio


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