James Murdoch has stepped down as chairman of BSkyB, just six weeks after giving up a similar role at News International, following the phone hacking scandal that rocked the News Corp media empire last year. Deputy chairman Nick Ferguson will take over at the helm of BSkyB, as the broadcaster looks to dispel pressure from shareholders concerned that phone-hacking allegations at News International are damaging the rest of the Murdoch empire.
Commenting on his departure, Murdoch said he “could become a lightning rod” for criticism of the broadcaster. The 39-year-old felt he needed to give up a position he loved to avoid the risk of being forced to quit should he be severely criticised by a forthcoming report from MPs into the scandal, or if he were to trip up or be reprimanded when he gives evidence to the Leveson inquiry into press standards this month.
Writing to the board of BSkyB, the man seen as the heir presumptive to his father Rupert until last summer’s revelations about the hacking of Milly Dowler’s phone, said: “As attention continues to be paid to past events at News International, I am determined that the interests of BSkyB should not be undermined by matters outside the scope of this company.”
Although Murdoch will keep a non-executive directorship of BSkyB, the move caps a retreat by James to New York where he hopes to rebuild his career as News Corporation’s number three, behind his father and Chase Carey.
Murdoch appeared before the Leveson inquiry into press standards twice, once with his father last summer, and a second time to answer outstanding questions about what he knew at the time he authorised a £425,000 phone-hacking settlement to football boss Gordon Taylor in 2008.
By stepping down, it will mean that no Murdoch occupies a top position at the satellite broadcaster for the first time since 1999. James Murdoch, who had been appointed chief executive of BSkyB in 2003, aged 31, succeeded his father Rupert as chairman in 2007, in a business that was created in the early 1990s when Rupert Murdoch’s Sky merged with rival BSB to leave News Corp as the largest single shareholder. James Murdoch served as BSkyB chairman at the same time as he was executive chairman of News International, during the period when the News of the World owner denied that it was behind widespread phone hacking when allegations surfaced in 2009.
James Murdoch’s departure was greeted with an unprecedented joint statement from his father Rupert and Carey, the chief operating officer. The two said: “We are grateful for James Murdoch’s successful leadership of BSkyB.
“He has played a major role in propelling the company into the market-leading position it enjoys today – and in the process has been instrumental in creating substantial value for News Corporation shareholders.”
Ofcom is examining whether Murdoch and News Corporation – a 39.1% shareholder in BSkyB – are suitable directors and owners in the wake of phone-hacking and other allegations of corrupt payments and pay-TV hacking made in recent weeks. News International chief executive Tom Mockridge also joined the board of BSkyB as deputy chairman.