Home / Comment / In brief

A Fit and Proper Person

A Fit and Proper Person

Andrew Graystone reflects on the career and resignation of media tycoon, Rupert Murdoch. 26/09/2023

Rupert Murdoch, who is stepping down at the age of 92 as chairman of News Corp, may be the most powerful media entrepreneur the world has ever seen. In the UK and around the world he has been the proprietor of hundreds of local and national newspapers and TV stations. In the UK, they include The Sun and The Times, the publisher HarperCollins, and previously The News of The World, and SkyTV. He has exercised a huge influence on politics in the UK as elsewhere. For the past four decades no political party in the UK has won power without the backing of Murdoch’s newspapers. For this reason, UK politicians of every stripe have courted him assiduously.

Rupert Murdoch has often cast himself as a warrior for truth and justice. In his resignation letter, sent to his staff, Murdoch warns that “the battle for the freedom of speech and, ultimately, the freedom of thought, has never been more intense”. Somehow he seeks to paint himself as an outsider battling against the powerful and privileged. “Self–serving bureaucracies are seeking to silence those who would question their provenance and purpose. Elites have open contempt for those who are not members of their rarefied class,” he says in the letter.

This sounds strange, coming from a man who appears to have had his own key to Number 10 Downing Street, even if he almost always let himself in through the back door. What’s more he claims that the media – presumably other than his own – are part of a conspiracy. “Most of the media is in cahoots with those elites, peddling political narratives rather than pursuing the truth.” It’s a bizarre case of double–think. If anyone is part of a powerful elite in British life, surely it is Rupert Murdoch.

In the UK there are no restrictions on who may own or run a newspaper. Broadcasters, on the other hand, are governed by the regulator OFCOM, which is charged with limiting the amount of influence an individual or company can amass. They are also charged with determining whether a person is “fit and proper” to hold a broadcasting licence. That begs the question of what makes a person “fit and proper”. Is it their track record of compliance with the law and the various broadcasting codes? Is it their capability to lead a hugely powerful and profitable business?  Or is it a question of character? 

Most of us understand “a fit person” as one who has made good use of their gym membership. Aristotle understood fitness in moral terms. But he knew that moral character, like physical fitness, can only be developed by practice.  You don’t lose weight overnight and you don’t learn goodness that way either.  You develop it by reflection, and that reflection takes place in community. The community that Rupert Murdoch has lived and breathed for 70 years is the people who bought his populist papers and watched his TV channels. Although he has never been a UK citizen, there’s probably no one who understands British popular culture better, or has been more influential in shaping it.

Rupert Murdoch’s relationship with faith has been complex. He has often described himself as a Christian, and was awarded a papal knighthood in 1998 for his charitable donations to the Catholic church. Earlier this year he called off plans for his fifth marriage, suggesting that he couldn’t come to terms with his fianceé’s evangelical Christian beliefs. In any case, religious adherence by itself doesn’t make a person “fit and proper”. Instead, Jesus said that “A good person brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil person brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” Every newspaper is an expression of the character of its proprietors, editors, journalists and readers. You can’t legislate or regulate for that. It has to come from within. 

Neither compliance with the law nor capability as a business leader necessarily produces quality in media. What does, is character. If we want to have a free press we need to accept that it may look like the worst of us. Today, for example, Rupert Murdoch’s Sun carried what it described as a “very x–rated pic” of the fiancé of a minor celebrity, and what appear to be covert photographs of another celebrity’s cancer–related hair loss. Whose responsibility is this? The publishers, or the purchasers, or both?

For most of us, our endorsement of the fitness or otherwise of newspaper proprietors is limited to deciding whether or not to buy their papers each day. We don’t get to decide who is “a fit and proper person” to run a newspaper or a broadcaster – but we do decide whether to participate in that culture by subscribing to a particular channel, buying a particular newspaper, or buying products that are advertised in them. In 2012, in evidence to the Leveson Inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the British press, Rupert Murdoch described the press as “highly democratic” because readers vote for it every day with their purchases. In that at least he was right.  


Interested in this? Share it on social media. Join our monthly e–newsletter to keep up to date with our latest research and events. And check out our Supporter Programme to find out how you can help our work.

Image by David Shankbone, CC BY 3.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

Andrew Graystone

Andrew Graystone

Andrew is the Public Engagement Lead at Theos. He has been a journalist and commentator, a BBC TV producer, and has also written and presented many programmes for BBC radio. He is the author of ‘Bleeding for Jesus’ (DLT, 2021), and ‘Faith Hope and Mischief’ (Canterbury, 2020).

Watch, listen to or read more from Andrew Graystone

Posted 26 September 2023

Journalism, Media, Morality


See all

In the news

See all


See all

Get regular email updates on our latest research and events.

Please confirm your subscription in the email we have sent you.

Want to keep up to date with the latest news, reports, blogs and events from Theos? Get updates direct to your inbox once or twice a month.

Thank you for signing up.