Murdoch makes room at the top

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News that Rupert Murdoch's daughter, Elisabeth, is to join BSkyB as a senior manager will further fuel speculation about Mr Murdoch's succession plans, media analysts predicted last night.

"We might be seeing the beginning of the end of Mr Murdoch's active career," said one London-based analyst.

Mr Murdoch, 64, oversees a vast empire of media assets, and his personal fortune is put at pounds 1.7bn. He is believed to be intent on ensuring that one of his three children - Elisabeth, 27, Lachlan, 24, and James, 23 - succeed him at the top.

Mr Murdoch and his family control about 31 per cent of News Corporation, the master company, but have a shareholder agreement with MCI, the long- distance operator, which provides additional management control. Mr Murdoch has been quietly buying out other family members, including his sisters and their children, in order to concentrate the holding.

Until Ms Murdoch's appointment, speculation about the likely successor centred on Lachlan, 24, Mr Murdoch's eldest son, who late last year was appointed deputy chief executive of News Corporation's Australian subsidiary. But Ms Murdoch's appointment at BSkyB may indicate a shift in Mr Murdoch's plans. He is believed to view television as the key to the future growth of his empire, and his daughter's arrival at the UK broadcaster is being seen internally as a sign he may prefer Elisabeth to Lachlan.

Ms Murdoch, who worked briefly for News Corp in Australia following college in the US, has developed a reputation for hard work and and a hard-nosed attitude toward costs. During her brief tenure at two Fox affiliates in California fully a quarter of the staff were either fired or left. By the time the stations were sold off in January, they were highly profitable.

In an exclusive interview with the Independent, to appear tomorrow, Ms Murdoch concedes that her tenure in California was "incredibly stressful". But she adds that she learned alot from the experience. Worried about chronic on-air mistakes, she issued a memo warning there would be reprisals. When morale plummeted, she admitted the tactic had been counter-productive.

"Sabre-rattling sometimes backfires," says the daughter of a legendary sabre-rattler.

Additional reporting by Richard Kelly Heft in San Francisco.

City Comment, page 17