James Murdoch Steps Down At News International

James Murdoch has been removed as executive chairman of News Corp.’s UK newspaper wing News International, as the phone hacking and media ethics row grows ever more toxic around it.

The announcement (below) comes from News Corp’s New York HQ (from where he will now work) and not News International’s in London, says Murdoch has “relinquished” his position, and leaves leadership of the unit to News International CEO Tom Mockridge, who, unlike Murdoch, was not in place during the scandal.

Murdoch remains News Corp group deputy COO. His father Rupert says James will now focus only on News Corp’s international pay-TV businesses, which he previously led before climbing the News Corp ranks. In fact, News Corp confirms to paidContent he retains his role as “CEO” of News Corp’s international business – a title the announcement does not refer to.

In essence, Murdoch is being distanced from News Corp’s most toxic asset. Through evidence to the UK parliament’s media select committee in to whether it was misled on phone hacking, as well as evidence heard at Lord Leveson’s public inquiry, he has looked increasingly vulnerable…

He had repeatedly told the committee his footsoldiers had not made him aware of the extent of phone hacking, before later recalling that he had indeed received a weekend email about it which he did not fully act upon. Last week, court documents revealed that News International deleted emails to cover up the scandal, emails which were later discovered.

The scandal has also now spread from just News Of The World to News International’s main Sun title, which London’s Metropolitan Police chief last week said ran a network of corrupt police officers.

The select committee is due to report before parliament’s easter recess (March 27 to April 26), committee member Therese Coffey told Sky News: “This wasn’t unexpected, the timing was a surprise. If James Murdoch had taken this a bit more seriously, he wouldn’t be having to make this move now.”

Committee chair John Whittingdale told Sky News: “He was running the company at the time when a lot of these payments (to phone hacking victims) were being made. If News Corp wanted to start afresh, his presence was always going to be a problem for them.”

If News Corp ever wants to return to its proposed, postponed buy-out of BSkyB, it may need to pass the regulator Ofcom’s “fit and proper persons” test. James Murdoch’s ongoing place atop News Corp’s international TV business means that test could still be applied to him.

Announcement follows…

New York, NY February 29, 2012 – News Corporation today announced that, following his relocation to the Company’s headquarters in New York, James Murdoch, Deputy Chief Operating Officer, has relinquished his position as Executive Chairman of News International, its UK publishing unit. Tom Mockridge, Chief Executive Officer of News International, will continue in his post and will report to News Corporation President and COO Chase Carey.

“We are all grateful for James’ leadership at News International and across Europe and Asia, where he has made lasting contributions to the group’s strategy in paid digital content and its efforts to improve and enhance governance programs,” said Rupert Murdoch, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, News Corporation (NSDQ: NWS). “He has demonstrated leadership and continues to create great value at Star TV, Sky Deutschland, Sky Italia, and BSkyB (NYSE: BSY). Now that he has moved to New York, James will continue to assume a variety of essential corporate leadership mandates, with particular focus on important pay-TV businesses and broader international operations.”

“I deeply appreciate the dedication of my many talented colleagues at News International who work tirelessly to inform the public and am confident about the tremendous momentum we have achieved under the leadership of my father and Tom Mockridge,” said James Murdoch. “With the successful launch of The Sun on Sunday and new business practices in place across all titles, News International is now in a strong position to build on its successes in the future. As Deputy Chief Operating Officer, I look forward to expanding my commitment to News Corporation’s international television businesses and other key initiatives across the Company.”