Rupert Murdoch resigns from News International directorship

Jul 22, 2012

First reaction: few believe decision to step down is just ‘housecleaning’ as The Times’s owners claim

Justin Sullivan

NEWS CORP is seeking to reassure UK staff it has no plans to sell The Times or the Sun after it emerged that Rupert Murdoch has stepped down from the directorship of News International, the arm of the company that controls his UK papers.

A statement said the 81-year-old had stepped down from the board, and the boards of a number of other subsidiaries, as part of a plan to split his media empire in two: a largely US-based group of entertainment “assets” including 20th Century Fox and Fox TV and a publishing wing comprising UK, Australian and US newspapers and books.

The Australian media baron plans to remain chairman of both arms of the business, we are told, though his number two at News Corp, Chase Carey, will be transfered to the US-based entertainment group.

But many observers – perhaps the majority – reject this explanation, believing the news is the first stage in Murdoch offloading his UK newspapers in a mood of sustained pique after the phone-hacking scandal left his reputation in tatters with MPs dubbing him “unfit” to run a major corporation.

Media analyst Claire Enders told The Observer this was the Murdoch family’s “big farewell”. She added: “They are leaving the country and they won't be back. It is quite a historic moment.

"This follows on from comments Murdoch made a few weeks ago when he remarked on the unfriendliness of the UK, but it's something that is part of the long-term strategy.”

The New York Times remembered remarks Murdoch made in the US about his bid to acquire all of satellite TV network BSkyB, a bid he was forced to abandon as a result of the phone hacking inquiry.

Talking about the millions of pounds he had been prepared to spend on the company, he said: “If Britain doesn’t want them, we’ll invest them here. I’m much more bullish about America than I am about England.”

In a statement sent to all staff, News International said the resignation was “nothing more than a housecleaning exercise prior to the company split”. “Don’t buy it,” advises Newsweek’s Howard Kurtz, writing on The Daily Beast.

Kurtz says that in stepping down, Murdoch Sr is “following a path traced by his son, James, who was badly damaged in the [phone hacking] scandal”. Murdoch Jr resigned from his News International directorships last autumn – “and then resigned as chairman”.

Kurtz says Murdoch Sr’s move may be “an attempt to appease his critics, protect his base or lay the groundwork for an exit strategy”. He concludes: “Rupert Murdoch does not relinquish positions of power on both sides of the Atlantic as some sort of bureaucratic housecleaning.”

Labour MP Tom Watson, who made his name by doggedly pursuing Murdoch through a select committee, told the BBC that it was only a few months ago that the media mogul told the Sun staff that he “wasn’t going anywhere”.

Watson added: “Well, few of them believed that at the time and I think the resignation this week proves it. He's jettisoning those parts of the company that have become an embarrassment and he's leaving those people that stuck with him for many decades behind.”

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