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Triumphant Murdoch Buys N.Y. Post--Again : Media: The magnate is optimistic that he'll get a waiver from federal rules that forced him to sell the paper five years ago.

March 30, 1993|VICTOR ZONANA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEW YORK — Pledging to shake up "the entrenched interests that have done so much damage to this city," Australian-born media mogul Rupert Murdoch on Monday reassumed control of the ailing New York Post.

Murdoch's return to the Post, which he sold in 1988 because of federal regulations barring cross-ownership of newspapers and television stations in the same city, was the latest twist in the long-running soap opera about the feisty tabloid's struggle for survival.

Murdoch, who on Monday was awarded temporary control of the paper by U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Francis Conrad, immediately installed Patrick Purcell as publisher and Ken Chandler as editor. Both Purcell and Chandler are veteran executives at News Corp., the holding company for Murdoch's global communications empire. Purcell served as the Post's publisher during Murdoch's previous stint as owner.

Murdoch said he is optimistic that he will succeed in winning a waiver to the cross-ownership regulation in the 60 days allotted by the judge.

Murdoch's renewed interest in the Post, which he owned from 1976 through 1988, does not mean he is turning away from movies and television. Over the last several years, Murdoch has piloted his global News Corp. empire away from newspapers and magazines and into the electronic media, either via Fox television in the United States or Sky Television, a satellite service in Great Britain.

In a press conference Monday, he said he will continue to reside in Los Angeles, where he is focusing his attention on News Corp.'s Fox studio and television network operations.

Murdoch warned the Post's unions that employees, who have repeatedly been squeezed for concessions by Post management, may be asked to give back more. "I'm not here as some fairy godmother to pour money into the paper," he said. "I represent a public company."

Murdoch called his approximately $1.5-million investment to take over the Post "a very small investment" for News Corp., whose operating income in fiscal 1992 was $927 million and is expected by some analysts to grow to $1.5 billion in the current fiscal year.

Observers said Murdoch's motivation in buying the Post is not based on any expectation of profit. The Post is a weak fourth in the troubled New York newspaper market and shows little prospect of winning back advertisers or of making money. The paper is losing $200,000 a week and its circulation has dwindled to about 400,000 copies a day, down from 960,000 in 1983.

More than a profit motive, observers said, Murdoch feels personal satisfaction from being asked back to save a paper that his liberal political opponents, including Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), had forced him to sell five years ago.

Murdoch also relishes the perquisites and power that come from owning a paper in the world's media capital. "People of means like to own newspapers, especially in this city," said Howard Seife, an attorney for the Post's unsecured creditors. "It gives you access to--and influence over--all sorts of politicians and business people."

Murdoch, whose editorial pages are staunchly conservative, expressed hopes that the Post would "set the course for debate, informed debate" in New York.

After being denied the waiver of cross-ownership in 1988, Murdoch sold the Post for $37 million to developer Peter Kalikow, who ran it for five years, losing $10 million to $20 million a year.

When banks refused Kalikow further credit in January, he gave up the Post, which subsequently declared bankruptcy. Subsequently taking brief turns at the Post's helm were controversial collections agent Steven Hoffenberg and parking garage magnate Abe Hirschfeld, who once spat on a Miami journalist whose reporting had displeased him.

Purcell, 45, is responsible for News Corp.'s U.S. publishing operations and is also publisher of the Boston Herald. Chandler, also 45, was executive producer of tabloid TV's "A Current Affair." Both worked at the Post under Murdoch.

Under an agreement approved Monday under which Hirschfeld handed control to Murdoch, Murdoch will give Hirschfeld the $1 million he put up initially in an unsecured loan and ensure that Hirschfeld is paid for a $1.57-million loan guaranteed by Post advertising and circulation revenues.

Times staff writer John Lippman in Los Angeles contributed to this story.

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