James Murdoch has stepped down from the executive boards of News Group Newspapers Limited (NGN), publisher of The Sun, and of Times Newspapers Limited. He has also quit a subsidiary, News International Holdings. Murdoch will remain on the editorial board of the Times and remains the chief of News International and the deputy chief operating officer of News Corporation. Records show that he actually stepped down from both boards in September after the appointment of Tom Mockridge as CEO of News International.
NGN ran the now-shuttered News of the World tabloid which has become engulfed in allegations of phone hacking by its staff. Some News Corp. investors have called for the company to sell its newspapers which contribute less than other of the company’s subsidiaries in revenues and profits, even though media interest in them is high.
After Murdoch gave testimony about the phone hacking scandal earlier this month for the second time before a parliamentary committee, questions have arisen about whether he was deceitful or simple incompetent as an executive. Next week, Murdoch faces the shareholders of British satellite broadcaster BSkyB, who will decide if he will remain on as non-executive chairman. Said Harriet Harman, Britain’s shadow minister for culture, media and sports from the opposition Labour party, “The concerns about whether he is a fit and proper person to run BSkyB remain.”
Insiders have said that “nobody should read too much into the changes.” But Ivor Gaber, professor of political journalism at London’s City University, suggested that Murdoch’s resignations suggest that he is “still worried over his own exposure” in the phone hacking scandal, or that News Corp. is indeed thinking of selling its British newspaper holdings.
This Monday saw the beginning of testimony by alleged victims of phone hacking as part of the Leveson inquiry into media ethics. The parents of Milly Dowler, the murdered 13-year-old British school girl whose voice mail was hacked, and actor Hugh Grant gave testimony on Monday. On Wednesday, Kate and Gerry McCann, whose three-year-old daughter Madeleine has been missing since 2007 while vacationing in Portugal, spoke before the panel. Kate McCann said that she “felt totally violated” when her private diaries were published without her permission by News International in 2008; she said that she thought the diaries were taken from her by police in Portugal. They were later returned but she said she suspected they had been photocopied and translated into Portuguese and then back into English, as there were “minor differences” in the versions published by News International. Gerry McCann demanded a full investigation into how the company got hold of his wife’s diaries.
News Corp.’s troubles are not limited to the UK. Australian police are now investigating the claims of former senator Bill O’Chee that an unnamed executive from Rupert Murdoch’s News Limited offered him favorable coverage in the press and a “special relationship” in return for voting against legislation on the creation of digital TV in Australia. News Limited stood to profit from the failure of the legislation. News Corp. owns 70 percent of Australia’s newspapers and, in the wake of the phone hacking scandal in the UK, Australian legislators have started an inquiry into potentially increasing newspaper regulation. O’Chee’s allegations were reported by Fairfax Media, a rival of News Corp. in Australia.
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