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Murdoch Children in Media Spotlight
By Marie McInerney  Reuters
ADELAIDE — The next move up the ladder for Rupert Murdoch's son Lachlan, the heir-apparent to the family's global media empire, will see him face intense scrutiny in the United States, the epicenter of the business.

The clean-cut 27-year-old, who sports a tattoo of a gecko lizard on his forearm, has been the front-runner for the succession since he took charge of the Australian newspapers that launched his father's global ambitions.

But Murdoch senior, 67, is showing no signs of flagging, and it could be a wait to the death for the final promotion.

Lachlan last week firmed as favorite to succeed his father as head of the News Corp. empire after being given additional rein over the U.S print operations, which include the New York Post newspaper and publisher HarperCollins.

But Lachlan's older sister Elisabeth — a key figure in Murdoch's United Kingdom BSkyB satellite television interests and a successful TV station operator in her own right — is still in the running, if an outside chance.

"On the whole, given their respective positions within the company, he's (Lachlan) definitely seen as still having the privileged pole position," leading London-based media analyst Mathew Horsman told Reuters.

But that could change, said the Henderson Crosthwaite analyst and author of Sky High: The Inside Story of BSkyB.

"Murdoch plays them off against each other and the children sort of openly concede that that's what he does," Horsman said.

Still Good Friends

Despite the competition, Lachlan and Elisabeth are regarded as close, traveling together on holiday in the past and joining in recent celebrations in Sydney for the 90th birthday of the family matriarch Dame Elisabeth Murdoch.

But the promise of a smooth succession was rocked last year with the collapse of their parent's 31-year marriage and news that Murdoch senior was involved with Wendy Deng, vice president of News Corp.'s Hong Kong-based Star TV and 36 years his junior.

Murdoch's relationship with Deng, with a pending marriage rumored, has sparked early but hesitant speculation that she could join the leadership ranks of the family dynasty.

For now, however, the focus remains on the Murdoch siblings with the family's 30 percent controlling stake in News Corp. believed to have already been distributed among them.

Lachlan has had an impressive debut in Australia, a country that takes pride in cutting down its tall poppies.

He has become a darling of the Sydney social set, riding a powerful motorbike around town, risking the often treacherous Sydney to Hobart yacht race, and recently announcing his engagement to Wonderbra model Sarah O'Hare.

He is described by older associates as unfailingly polite, while winning points at his first newspaper posting by eating in the cafeteria and playing on the staff football team.

"He doesn't act like a crown prince," one observer said.

Elisabeth's Profile Growing

Across the world, Elisabeth is also winning a growing profile, after consolidating her position at BSkyB to be named managing director for Sky Networks, the programming and joint ventures arm of the News Corp. affiliate.

The 30-year-old mother of two last year separated from her husband, Elkin Pianim, a Ghana-born investor and publisher, who has been linked with the great-grandson of Sigmund Freud.

In an interview with The Observer newspaper in September 1998, Elisabeth conceded she would like the top job.

But she put a limit on how far she would be prepared to push.

"I would like to be good enough, and worthy enough, to be considered. But would I be ruthless towards my siblings in order to be what is called 'the first'? No," she said.

"Actually, Lachlan and I did talk to Dad together and said we don't have a problem with one person being the boss, but we do very much feel it should be first among equals," she was quoted as saying.

Murdoch had an abrupt start to his own career, forced by the death of his father, Sir Keith, to interrupt an apparently bohemian lifestyle at Oxford University and return to the family business in his hometown of Adelaide at the age of 22.

It may take his own death before the reins pass to the next generation, which includes younger son James, a latecomer to the company who now heads its music and new media operations in New York. Prudence, the eldest child from Murdoch's first marriage, is not involved in the News Corp. business.

Asked in a recent British television interview what he would do if he retired, Murdoch responded: "Die pretty quickly."

Huge Empire Awaits

Unlike his own relatively modest inheritance, Murdoch's heirs are in line for a huge empire that spans newspapers, cable and satellite television, book publishing, the 20th Century Fox film studio and even the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team.

News Corp generates annual revenue of US$13 billion and Murdoch's personal wealth was estimated in 1998 at US$5.6 billion.

The next few years are obviously critical.

In her new post, Elisabeth will oversee BSkyB's new emphasis on original programming, which the network is counting on to help drive subscription growth for digital television.

Murdoch watchers will be keeping an eye on Lachlan's U.S. performance and to see when and if he will be moved into News Corp's engine room of American television and film interests.

It is a time frame that should suit their unflagging father.

"My children are not ready yet, even though they may not agree with that," he said last year. "I'm planning for them to wait a few more years."

— News Corp. owns Fox News Online.

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