Slowly yet inexorably, Rupert Murdoch is bowing out. Last week, the 81-year-old Murdoch resigned from the directorship News International (NI), the British-based affiliate of News Corporation that controls newspapers including The Sun tabloid, The Times and The Sunday Times. Murdoch also resigned from the boards of the Times Newspaper Holdings and Newscorp Investments.
Murdoch remains chairman of NI.
A News Corp. spokeswoman described Murdoch’s resignations as “nothing more than a corporate housecleaning exercise” in advance of plans announced last month to split News Corp. into two entities, a publishing division and an entertainment division including The Wall Street Journal (now the most popular of the company’s papers by circulation), the Fox Broadcasting television networks and the 20th Century Fox film company.
But Murdoch’s stepping down is being widely read as a sign that he plans eventually to sell his UK newspapers, which have been mired in scandal after, last July 4, the Guardian reported that reporters for NI tabloid News of the World had hacked into the voicemails of a murdered British schoolgirl, Milly Dowler.
Comments media analyst Claire Enders in Bloomberg:
“It’s all part of a withdrawal from the U.K. It’s a continued disassociation with the Murdochs as a family because, after all, James and Rupert Murdoch are not all that different in the playout of the scandal. They’ve both been heavily implicated in different ways. So this is a response.”
Both Murdochs have had to answer questions before Parliament about the phone hacking scandal. As reports of the scandal grew, News Corp. had to withdraw its bid to acquire full control of British Sky Broadcasting Group, Britain’s biggest pay-TV operator, of which it owns 39 percent. James Murdoch, who is currently the deputy operating chief of News Corp. in New York, stepped down as chairman of BSkyB in April. British media regulator Ofcom is investigating whether the Murdochs are “fit and proper” to run a media company and has threatened to revoke the company’s broadcasting license.
Bloomberg also reports that, last week, a lawyer for phone hacking victims said that a NI executive is in possession of an email — not previously disclosed by the company — containing instructions for hacking the phone of a “well-known person.”
Murdoch also faces pressure to resign as News Corp.’s chairman at the company’s annual meeting later this year. According to the Guardian, 18 major shareholders including Connecticut’s state pension fund and the UK’s Legal & General have signed a letter calling for Murdoch to step down as chair from the company he began in 1953, with the purchase of the Adelaide News in Australia.
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