Murdoch backs son James as BSkyB chief

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The Independent Online

Rupert Murdoch yesterday gave his first public backing to his son's bid to take over as chief executive of BSkyB, saying James was the "best" candidate for the job.

The only other executive Mr Murdoch, chairman and 34 per cent shareholder of BSkyB, will consider as equally qualified as his son is Charles Ergen, of rival US satellite television company, EchoStar.

Mr Ergen, a media entrepreneur and one of the US's wealthiest men, is a former sparring partner of Mr Murdoch's and originally beat him in the battle for the satellite giant DirecTV. He later had his bid overturned by competition authorities in the US and was forced to bow to a $4.1bn (£2.4bn) takeover by Mr Murdoch's News Corp.

"Nobody is more qualified to take over a multi-channel platform than James, with the exception of Charles Ergen of EchoStar but, of course, Charlie isn't available," Mr Murdoch said in an interview with the US investment magazine, Barron's, that was published yesterday. "I'm biased, but James is the best I can see."

James, 30, is currently head of News Corp's Asian satellite business Star, and his father yesterday pointed to his success in turning it into profit last year as a measure of his ability to take over at BSkyB.

His father's words of support follow those of Peter Chernin, chairman of News Corp, who has also spoken out in favour of the Murdoch succession to Tony Ball, who will step down as chief executive of BSkyB next month.

Mr Murdoch has told shareholders that the successor at BSkyB would have "nothing to do with anyone's shareholding", but it is thought that he has been putting pressure on the board to appoint James for some time. He has, until now, kept quiet in public about the possibility of working with his son as chief executive.

But the addition of public support from Mr Murdoch for James is sure to heighten tensions on the BSkyB board, where a four-strong committee of non-executives is trying to carry out a normal recruitment process. It will also provoke the ire of some BSkyB shareholders, who are already angry that the Murdoch family is steamrolling its way in to control of the company.

Corporate governance bodies, such as the National Association of Pension Funds, have had meetings with the non-executive directors to demand that standard and fair recruitment procedures are carried out. Mr Murdoch did insist yesterday, however, that James would have to go through the same recruitment process as any other candidate.

Other external candidates for the post are thought to be all but non existent, but applications are thought to have come from BSkyB's chief operating officer, Richard Freudenstein and chief financial officer, Martin Stewart.

Shareholders are concerned that the independence of BSkyB's board would be at risk under a father-and-son management duo.