James Murdoch: Is the succession slipping away

 

Once the undisputed heir-apparent to his father's media empire, James Murdoch's future seemed less certain as he took a step back from the family's media empire today.

The 39-year-old News Corp deputy chief operating officer initially appeared to be more than capable of surviving the unfolding crisis engulfing News International - initially impressing some with his steely response, including the dramatic closure of the News of the World.

But claims that he knew about the now-notorious "For Neville" email, despite repeatedly insisting he was not aware of it, have dogged him.

And his defiant performance at his father Rupert Murdoch's side when he faced the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee last July came, reports suggested, amid efforts within the family to oust him.

Those were resisted but he then had to rely mostly on the large family stake in News Corp to remain on its board at all.

In November Mr Murdoch Jr survived as a director of BSkyB despite nearly 45% of non-News Corporation shareholders failing to back him at the company's annual general meeting.

BSkyB said that excluding votes cast by News Corporation, Mr Murdoch received the support of 55.7% of independent shareholders, with 31.4% opposed and 12.9% withheld.

There had been calls for him to resign his role as chairman amid fears that his links to the inquiry into phone hacking at News Corporation would damage BSkyB's reputation.

Born in London in 1972 as one of three children from Rupert's second marriage to Anna, James had an unusual start to his career.

At Harvard University he drew cartoons for the satirical magazine Lampoon and also set up a hip-hop record label, Rawkus, in the mid-1990s.

The company was making a small profit when it was bought by News Corporation and James returned to the family business as head of the firm's music division.

He ventured into the burgeoning dotcom market, investing in a series of internet ventures, and is credited by some for piquing Murdoch senior's interest in cyberspace.

But like many other dotcom investors, James met with indifferent results and News Corporation's foray into the market was short-lived.

James's mixed early performance did not dent his father's confidence in his abilities and in 2000 he was appointed chairman and chief executive officer of News Corporation subsidiary Star TV.

He proved himself in the tough Asian pay TV market by rapidly improving the Hong Kong-based company's fortunes. Star moved into profit after building a strong presence in India and won "landing rights" in mainland China.

Cries of nepotism greeted his appointment in November 2003 as chief executive of BSkyB - the youngest head of a FTSE 100 company.

In December 2007 he was handed the task of leading his father's media empire in Europe and Asia with direct responsibility for the strategic and operational development of News Corporation's television, newspaper and related digital assets there and in the Middle East.

Four years later he took on the newly-created post of deputy chief operating officer of News Corporation - the third most senior figure in the organisation.

But as the spotlight remains on the Murdoch Empire, today's news of James Murdoch standing down as executive chairman of News International is likely to cast doubts on the future of his once-glittering career.

PA

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