Murdoch wants to shake up UK news with 'aggressive' TV service

The TV service will showcase the kind of work seen in Murdoch newspapers.
The TV service will showcase the kind of work seen in Murdoch newspapers.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (BLOOMBERG) - Media mogul Rupert Murdoch has chosen a former Fox News executive to unleash his controversial brand of journalism on British screens. But David Rhodes insists he's not bringing the US network's brash playbook to London.

"It wouldn't work in this market," the News UK TV president said in an interview with Bloomberg News. "If you look at News Corp's history and tradition, it is one of local products for local markets - which this is." News UK TV will air for free on smart TVs and online platforms, and will showcase the kind of work seen in Murdoch newspapers such as the Sun and the 236-year-old Times of London.

"We think that there's a real editorial and creative gap in the market - a lot of that spirit has never really been effectively brought to television," said Rhodes from his Thames-side office in the 17-story headquarters of Murdoch's UK business.

"It's campaigning. It is ambitious, I think. It's aggressive, at times."

Unlike a conventional TV channel, News UK TV will open a new line of advertising revenue from the fast-growing digital TV market as newspapers - once the heart of Murdoch's empire - grapple with tumbling circulation. His company News Corp launched Times Radio last year, featuring former print journalists as its presenters.

The most partisan punditry found on US TV would struggle to get past British regulator Ofcom, which enforces "due impartiality." While the Sun has tended to explicitly back Conservative governments, Rhodes said News UK TV will stay "within the guardrails."

He pointed to the success of News Corp's Ofcom-regulated UK radio stations in recent years.

One of them, TalkRadio, calls itself the "home of free speech," and was fined by the regulator for breaching impartiality rules last year. It has also clashed with YouTube over community standards. Rhodes said TalkRadio invites as many politicians from the opposition Labour party as from the ruling Conservatives.

TV shake-up

News UK TV isn't the only newcomer to challenge the centre-ground BBC, the public-service broadcaster that's long been viewed as Britain's most trusted news source.

GB News, backed by another US media billionaire, John Malone, and run by former Murdoch executive Andrew Neil, denies it is partisan. However, the channel has teased a segment called Woke Watch, and one of its presenters is Andrew Doyle, a commentator known for his parody of an imagined young left-winger called Titania McGrath.

Rhodes, a former president of CBS News and head of US television at Bloomberg LP, said he'll put News UK TV in the middle of the public conversation about so-called culture wars between social liberals and conservatives.

"But we didn't put them there. That's what the audience is talking about and interested in learning more about," he said.

Asked what stories he would have been focused on if News UK TV were already live, Rhodes mentioned a riot last Sunday in the English city of Bristol, the idea of issuing vaccine passports to enter bars and pubs, and the order in which citizens are being vaccinated for Covid-19.

GB News and News UK TV are both potential destinations for one of Britain's most famous journalists, divisive ex-CNN anchor Piers Morgan, who recently resigned from Britain's largest free-to-air commercial broadcaster, ITV.

"I don't think it would surprise anyone that, from time to time, we've had discussions," said Rhodes, pointing out that Morgan is a former editor of the News of the World, a defunct Murdoch newspaper. "But from time to time we've had discussions with a number of people - not just Piers."