James Murdoch on ‘Roseanne’ Cancellation: ‘You Have to Make the Right Call’

James Murdoch
Paul Hampartsoumian/REX/Shutters

Media companies have to make hard choices to disassociate themselves from even the most lucrative content like ABC’s “Roseanne” when they become tainted by offensive sentiments, 21st Century Fox CEO James Murdoch said Tuesday in an interview on stage at the Code Conference in Palos Verdes, Calif.

“You have to make the right call,” he said. “It’s not just about keeping the audience going. It’s what’s the right thing to do for your company.”

Murdoch touched on the controversy in a Q&A with Recode senior editor Peter Kafka as well as a wide range of issues ranging from Fox’s own future with Disney (or Comcast) to diversity challenges in Hollywood.

Acknowledging that his own father gave up on Twitter after getting flak for some of his tweets, Murdoch commented on the double-edged sword social media can often be.

“I think people tweeting in a public space, there’s always risk there,” he said. “There’s a balance between them having a voice out there and what they are doing for their brand and the business overall. You have to be careful about that.”

He was mum on his own future now that he confirmed he’s stepping down from the company his father, Rupert, founded. “It’s been the five-year mark since I moved back to New York. I think it’s time to do something new.”

Murdoch opted not to stay on at New Fox, the new company to be formed after 21st Century Fox sells much of its TV and entertainment holdings to Disney, after Fox announced last month that his brother, Lachlan Murdoch, and John Nallen were being tapped to run the new company.

The New Fox assets would include the Fox Broadcasting Co. network and its TV station group, and the Fox News and Fox Sports operations.

Murdoch deflected questions on whether Fox would spurn Disney’s offer for Comcast, making clear that no actual offer from the latter company has been officially tendered. Instead, he stuck to touting the rationale for the Disney deal in the first place.

“The reason we’re looking at this combination with Disney we agreed to is we think the resulting firm is a very attractive business precisely because we have a velocity and scale with that is very complementary to theirs,” he said.

Murdoch acknowledged that his own company has had to deal with significant controversies, particularly at Fox News. He said management has been aggressive about enacting new measures ensuring the kind of sexual harassment alleged to have occurred during the Roger Ailes era is no more.

“If somebody doesn’t know now at Fox News that nothing is going to protect them if they have behave that way, that would be incredible to me,” he said.

Since the Disney-Fox deal was first broached, there was rampant speculation about Murdoch seguing into a new position at Disney.

It’s doubtful any further activity on that front will happen until after June 12, when a ruling on the AT&T-Time Warner merger may help clarify what the regulatory outlook will be for a Comcast bid. Lacking a distribution component to its business, Disney had always been seen as the easier path for Fox.

Fox itself has been waiting for regulatory approval on Sky, which is expected in the coming months.

Last month, James Murdoch called U.K. regulators to examine Comcast’s counterbid for satellite TV platform Sky. While Fox has been trying to acquire the 61% of Sky that it doesn’t own, Comcast has made its own $31 billion offer for Sky.

Britain’s government secretary for media, Matt Hancock said last month that Comcast’s bid to buy Sky does not raise the same kinds of concerns as 21st Century Fox’s proposed takeover and that he is therefore not inclined to order the same level of regulatory review of the Comcast offer that Fox’s bid is still undergoing.