Elisabeth Murdoch decries ‘profit without purpose’

Shine chief criticizes media environment in Edinburgh speech

EDINBURGH — In a remarkable critique of her younger brother James, Shine chair Elisabeth Murdoch declared that “profit without purpose is a recipe for disaster.”

Her keynote speech at the Edinburgh Television Festival on Thursday is being read as an application for the job of succeeding father Rupert as head of News Corp.

Three years ago at the same gabfest, James Murdoch, then chairman of U.K. paybox BSkyB, infuriated many Brits by insisting that “profit is the only guarantee of independence” and accused the BBC of “mission creep.”

Elisabeth Murdoch said that capitalism without a moral purpose was worthless.

She broke with family tradition by praising the BBC and its license fee funding in her wide-ranging MacTaggart lecture, an annual fest highlight.

Murdoch also criticized the “dearth of integrity” that had led to the phone hacking and police corruption scandal at her father’s U.K. tabloid the News of the World, which ended James Murdoch’s tenure as chairman of News Group Newspapers and executive chairman of News Corp.’s newspaper arm.

And, for a Murdoch, Elisabeth mounted an astonishing critique of unbridled, free-market capitalism. “As an industry — and indeed as a global society — we have become trapped in our own rhetoric,” she said. “We need to learn how to be comfortable with articulating purpose and reject the idea that money is the only effective measure of all things or that the free market is the only sorting mechanism.

“Do we have such faith in the imperatives of the market that we need have no will of our own other than to succeed on its terms? It is increasingly apparent that the absence of purpose — or of a moral language — within government, media or business could become one of the most dangerous own goals for capitalism and freedom.”

Referring to “the dearth of integrity” across so many institutions, Murdoch said that “without a common statement of purpose there is no credible answer to the Occupy Wall Street movement.”

She justified her own decision to sell Shine to News Corp. on the grounds that in the digital age it was crucial to operate companies that possessed genuine scale.

Murdoch also warned traditional broadcasters not to get caught out by new platforms like Twitter and Netflix that are building intelligent relationships with their auds.

Lavishing praise on the BBC, she claimed the pubcaster was the furthest ahead in understanding new eco-systems. She praised outgoing director-general Mark Thompson’s “purposeful mentality” for enabling the Beeb to claim pole position in the emerging connected world.

Elisabeth is the third member of the Murdoch family to give a MacTaggart lecture. In addition to James’ 2009 speech, Rupert Murdoch presented the lecture in 1989 to coincide with the launch of U.K. paybox BSkyB.