LONDON – Once his father’s heir apparent, James Murdoch stepped down Tuesday as chairman of British Sky Broadcasting, surrendering one of the biggest jobs in the Murdoch media empire.
James Murdoch’s competence and credibility have come under severe questioning because of the telephone hacking and alleged bribery scandal at the defunct Sunday tabloid News of the World and other British newspapers where he was supposed to be in charge.
“I am aware that my role as chairman could become a lightning rod for BskyB, and I believe that my resignation will help to ensure that there is no false conflation with events at a separate organization,” said the 39-year-old Murdoch, who remains a non-executive member of the BSkyB board.
He also remains deputy chief operating officer of News Corp., his father Rupert Murdoch’s global media firm, and chairman and CEO of the company’s international division.
Nicholas Ferguson, formerly deputy chairman, moved up to replace the younger Murdoch as chairman at BSkyB.
Tuesday’s announcement was just the latest in a string of setbacks for James Murdoch. At the end of February, he quit as chairman of News International so he could be based in New York and concentrate on News Corp. broadcasting interests.
“James Murdoch is a very good TV man. I think people there will regret his passing,” said Paul Connew, a media consultant and former tabloid editor.
“The bigger question it raises is, where does this leave News Corp. in relation to BSkyB?” Connew added. “I’m sure there will be some worry at BSkyB whether this is a prelude to News Corp. pulling out.”
The phone hacking scandal has already affected BSkyB by effectively killing a bid by News Corp. to take full control of the company and raising questions about the fitness of News Corp. to control BSkyB through the 39 percent share it already holds.
Others were happy to see Murdoch step down.
“How are the mighty fallen,” said Chris Bryant, a British legislator who is among the dozens of phone hacking victims who have won financial settlements from the Murdoch empire. “Two years ago the Murdochs were courted by all and sundry, and now James Murdoch is running away with his tail between his legs.”