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Succession : The Murdochs and the Roys, based on a true story

« Succession », produced by HBO and whose first season premiered in 2018, is a critical and popular success that has collected a raft of awards, including the Emmy Award for Best Drama Series in 2020. The dark and gritty work features the powerful New York Roy family as they struggle to gain control of a fictional media empire, whose patriarch and founder Logan Roy attempts to maintain control.

The show has remarkable similarities with the life of billionaire Rupert Murdoch, 90, whose News Corp group is one of the world’s largest media empires, and includes the Fox network channels in the US, and The Times and The Sun newspapers in the UK. Regarding his relationship to the EU, he is accused of being one of the architects of Brexit, and any conversations within the European community regarding media monopolisation and/or regulation inevitably reference Murdoch and his empire. Therefore, understanding the Murdochs via their “fictional” counterparts in the show Succession, can be of benefit to those managing the future of media in the EU.

Rupert Murdoch began his career in Melbourne, Australia, where he took over the management of a family press empire. In 1985, Rupert Murdoch became a US citizen for business reasons. Succession’s Logan Roy is a character who draws heavily on the Murdoch story. Logan grew up in Dundee, Scotland, and left it to become successful.

Rupert Murdoch has six children: Prudence, Elizabeth, Lachlan and James, and two younger children. In Succession, the Scottish Logan Roy has only four older children: Connor, Kendall, Shiv and Roman. So there are matches there. In Succession, Connor has a different mother to his other three siblings like Rupert Murdoch’s eldest daughter Prudence.

Let’s take a quick look at the children to see who’s who:

Lachlan Murdoch and Kendall Roy

People think it could be the same character because Lachlan resigned from his top job at News Corp and as publisher of the New York Post, when everyone thought he would be Rupert’s natural successor. This is very similar to Kendall’s back and forth with his father’s business.

James Murdoch and Roman Roy

The two are apparently considered the most rogue elements of the families. Could James’ entanglement with the News of the World phone hacking scandal reflect Roman’s rocket launch problems?

Prudence Murdoch and Connor Roy

Prudence and Connor largely avoid the family business. It has been reported that she is « the only one of (Rupert’s) children not in direct competition for his business affections ».

Elisabeth Murdoch and Shiv Roy

Elisabeth and Shiv are similar in the way they enter and exit the family business and are seen as possible successors at different times. In 2011, Elisabeth left News Corp to start her own production company. Shiv is trying to make a name for herself in politics but is ultimately involved in her father’s business.

Not to mention all the similarities in the structures of the two companies. Indeed, in Succession, Waystar owns the ATN channel, which has a conservatism reminiscent of Fox News. The Roy family also owns movie studios, a nod to Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox, sold in 2017 to The Walt Disney Company. Not to mention the scandals that have been stifled by money and intimidation, reminiscent of the many scandals with Roger Ailes, founder of Fox News, which were covered up for years by Murdoch. 

The entire editorial team of Succession has read the biographies of media moguls such as Rupert Murdoch, Sumner Redstone and Robert Maxwell, as well as Jim Stewart’s Disney War, which tells the story of Walt Disney’s chaotic legacy.

The influence of the Murdoch empire is enormous. In Britain, its London tabloid “The Sun” recently took the lead in the historic Brexit crusade to leave the European Union. His most influential tabloid, The Sun had long been advocating for an exit from the EU, and so had Murdoch himself articulating his opposition to the EU in a single quote to Anthony Hilton, a columnist at The Evening Standard : “When I go into Downing Street, they do what I say; when I go to Brussels, they take no notice”.

All of this shows us that the Murdochs and the Roys have a lot in common, from complicated family conflicts to conservative ideology. From the relationship with the American president to the Supreme Court hearing, many scenes of fiction and reality merge together. We are told of an undivided reign of a family above the law who will do anything to maintain their influence on our democracy. The show serves as a warning to the EU, regarding the dangers of too much power in the hands of one media mogul, and his dysfunctional family.

Martin JOSSE

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