Report: James Murdoch to step down from BSkyB

Published April 3, 2012 1:00PM (EDT)

LONDON (AP) — Media executive James Murdoch, under pressure over his role in Britain's tabloid phone hacking scandal, is stepping down as chairman of British Sky Broadcasting, the Sky News channel reported Tuesday,

Sky, the news channel of BSkyB, said his resignation would be confirmed later Tuesday after an unscheduled board meeting. It said James Murdoch would remain a board member and would be replaced as chairman by Nicholas Ferguson, the current deputy chairman.

News Corp., the global media empire of James' father Rupert, which owns 39 percent of BSkyB, had no comment. BSkyB did not immediately return calls.

Murdoch, one of his father's chief lieutenants, has been facing severe criticism as a result of the phone hacking scandal that brought down the Rupert Murdoch-owned News of the World tabloid in Britain.

In February, James Murdoch quit as chairman of News International, News Corp.'s British newspaper division. At the time, he indicated he was going to concentrate on managing parts of his father's extensive television businesses.

He has also stepped down from the boards of auctioneer Sotheby's and prominent pharmaceutical firm GlaxoSmithKline PLC but remains deputy chief operating officer of News Corp.

James Murdoch has repeatedly denied knowing about widespread phone hacking at the News of the World, although his account has been contradicted by former associates.

In a letter to British lawmakers last month, James Murdoch acknowledged that he could have done more to investigate wrongdoing at the tabloid but insisted he had been misled and given "false assurances" by subordinates.

Rupert Murdoch shut down the News of the World in July amid a wave of bad publicity and plummeting advertising revenue due to the hacking revelations.

News Corp. has been struggling to shake off the damage from the hacking furor, which derailed its plans to try to take charge of the remaining 61 percent of BSkyB in July.

James Murdoch had been widely thought to be the heir to his father's media empire, and the proposed takeover of BSkyB would have boosted his profile within the company, as well as giving News Corp. full control of a lucrative broadcaster with an extensive sports and news franchise.

James Murdoch was re-elected chairman of BSkyB in November despite a groundswell of opposition. BSkyB said Murdoch won the support of more than 81 percent of shareholders who voted, while nearly 19 percent voted against him at the company's annual meeting.

BSkyB shares were down more than 1 percent at 674 pence Tuesday afternoon.

Richard Hunter, head of equities at Hargreaves Lansdown Stockbrokers, said BSkyB shares were falling because Murdoch's departure would "cause a bit more destabilization."

Hunter said Murdoch's resignation, if confirmed, would not necessarily indicate a waning of News Corp. commitment to the broadcaster. Hunter sees it as a personal issue for James Murdoch; "I wouldn't read anything more into it strategically."

By Salon Staff

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