How our Society helps fuel the Murdoch empire

The Frontline documentary — Murdoch’s Scandal — premiered last night on PBS, and it’s must-see TV.

Many sections deserve to be highlighted, but let’s start with this one — a quote from Lord John Prescott, Britain’s Deputy Prime Minister from 1997 until 2007. Here’s what he tells Frontline correspondent Lowell Bergman about the relationship between Murdoch’s TV business — BSkyB in particular — and Murdoch’s newspaper operations:

Worth repeating: Murdoch makes boatloads of money from television, which keeps his newspapers running, and it’s the newspapers that give him political power.

Among Murdoch’s television holdings: the National Geographic Channel, which has been making boatloads of money.

During the past ten years, News Corp’s cable network division (which includes a constellation of channels around the world) has generated enormous income growth for News Corp. In FY 2002 (the year after the National Geographic Channel launched in the United States), cable TV brought in just $199 million — or 10% — of News Corp’s total income. By FY 2011, cable television’s income had grown to $2.76 billion, or 50% of the total. See the green boxes, below.

Fiscal year 2002 (click to enlarge)

Fiscal year 2011 (click to enlarge)

from Frontline’s How Does News Corp Makes Its Money

How much did the National Geographic Channel contribute to that total? You can’t tell from the News Corp 2011 Annual Report, but the National Geographic Society’s Form 990 can give us a very rough idea.

The problem is how to calculate the income generated by two separate National Geographic Channels — one is international (NGC-I), the other is based in the United States (NGC-US). News Corp owns 52% of NGC-I, and 70% percent of NGC-US; that gives National Geographic shares of 48% and 30%, respectively. For this back-of-the-envelope calculation, let’s split the difference and assume National Geographic has roughly a 40% stake in the two combined entities.

Now, go to the 990: In 2010, National Geographic’s “share of total income” was $184 million. If that’s a 40% share, then the Channels’ total income is $459 million — with News Corp’s 60% share of income at $275 million. That represents 10% of $2.76 billion generated by News Corp’s cable networks in 2011. (Again, these numbers are very rough estimates based on limited financial information.)

Also from the 990: National Geographic’s “share of end-of-year assets” is more than $1.4 billion. Which means the National Geographic Society — a 501(c)3 organization that enjoys a tax exemption courtesy of the American people — has helped News Corp build an asset that’s worth more than $3.5 billion… and possibly more than $5 billion.

“The barons of the media are the biggest beasts in the modern jungle.
They laugh at the law. They sneer at parliaments.
They have the power to hurt us, and they do with gusto and precision.”
     — Tom Watson, Labour Member of Parliament (in Murdoch’s Scandal)

Think about that quote, and the National Geographic Society’s role as a financial enabler of the Murdoch empire, as you watch this jaw-dropping documentary:

Watch Murdoch’s Scandal on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE.

  • Timothy Chase

    I don’t know about the National Geographic channels, but National Geographic itself does excellent reporting on climate change.  One of the few real bastions of reason in climate change reporting.  As such I am a bit surprised by Murdoch’s use of the channels.  He doesn’t exactly have a stellar record in this department.  Quite the opposite, really.

    Please see for example:Scientist: “The Murdoch Media Empire Has Cost Humanity Perhaps One or Two Decades in Battle Against Climate Change.”Aug 31, 2011 at 10:05 amhttp://thinkprogress.org/romm/2011/08/31/308528/scientist-the-murdoch-media-empire-has-cost-humanity-perhaps-one-or-two-decades-of-time-in-the-battle-against-climate-change/How Murdoch’s Times of London and Fox News Coordinate Their Deceitful Reporting on Climate ChangeJul 24, 2011 at 11:32 amhttp://thinkprogress.org/romm/2011/07/24/271670/murdoch-times-of-london-fox-news-reporting-on-climate-change/Of course National Geographic’s coverage is mostly from the perspective of the preservation of other species and various ecological systems.  What I am most concerned with are humans, who in this century will face megadroughts and widespread starvation.  And in what sort of world humanity will be left with for the next more than 100,000 years.  More than ten times the length of time that anything we might normally describe as civilization has existed on the face of this planet.  Murdoch, it seems, will have played no small part in writing that future.

  • Timothy Chase

    I don’t know about the National Geographic channels, but National Geographic itself does excellent reporting on climate change.  One of the few real bastions of reason in climate change reporting.  As such I am a bit surprised by Murdoch’s use of the channels.  He doesn’t exactly have a stellar record in this department.  Quite the opposite, really.

    Please see for example:

    Scientist: “The Murdoch Media Empire Has Cost Humanity Perhaps One or Two Decades in Battle Against Climate Change.”, Aug 31, 2011 at 10:05 am
    http://thinkprogress.org/romm/2011/08/31/308528/scientist-the-murdoch-media-empire-has-cost-humanity-perhaps-one-or-two-decades-of-time-in-the-battle-against-climate-change/

    How Murdoch’s Times of London and Fox News Coordinate Their Deceitful Reporting on Climate Change, Jul 24, 2011 at 11:32 am
    http://thinkprogress.org/romm/2011/07/24/271670/murdoch-times-of-london-fox-news-reporting-on-climate-change/

    Of course National Geographic’s coverage is mostly from the perspective of the preservation of other species and various ecological systems.  What I am most concerned with are humans, who in this century will face megadroughts and widespread starvation.  And in what sort of world humanity will be left with for the next more than 100,000 years.  More than ten times the length of time that anything we might normally describe as civilization has existed on the face of this planet.  Murdoch, it seems, will have played no small part in writing that future.

    • Timothy – Thanks much for the links. Those articles make the Murdoch M.O. quite obvious: Feed the controversy. Fuel the fight. I doubt Murdoch has a hard-and-fast position on climate change; I don’t think he cares one way or the other. But he certainly knows how to sell tickets to a prizefight. … And you’re right about National Geographic magazine. It’s far better on the substance. Problem is, the Magazine’s business model is seriously broken, as dues paying members of the Society continue to head for the exits. 

      It’s worth noting that National Geographic and News Corp have a similar business models: the trash-for-cash on TV is the money maker that supports the money losing print ventures that, in National Geographic’s case, provide the prestige, and, in News Corp’s case, gives Murdoch his political power. 

      Thanks for stopping by — and for your comments.

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