Murdoch sets the stage for 'talented' son to succeed him

Rupert Murdoch lavished praise on his youngest son, James, as he manoeuvred him into position to succeed him as head of his giant media empire.

The 34-year-old is a "talented and proven executive with a rare blend of international perspective and deep, hands-on experience", the septuagenarian media mogul said, confirming that James will take a powerful new post at his father's right hand.

After having been the youngest chief executive of a FTSE 100 company at the Murdoch-controlled BSkyB, his promotion makes him the most powerful media executive of his generation. He will run News Corporation's stable of British papers, including The Sun and The Times, as well as broadcasting and publishing assets across Europe and Asia.

"James has transformed Sky, which is now not only Europe's most valuable television company, but also the fastest growing challenger in the much larger UK marketplace for entertainment, broadband and telephony," Mr Murdoch senior said yesterday. "His experience at Sky, combined with his track record in Asia while running [the satellite broadcaster] Star, and prior roles, make him uniquely qualified to take forward these exciting businesses."

The elevation of his son frees Mr Murdoch, 76, to concentrate on running the Wall Street Journal, the mighty American financial newspaper he bought for $5bn in the summer after a long take-over battle. After coveting the politically influential paper for decades, he has thrown himself into planning for its expansion and a new competitive battle against the New York Times.

James Murdoch will take control of businesses that include Star TV in Asia and Sky Italia, while also remaining as chairman of BSkyB. For the time being, however, it is the newspapers that will be "front and centre" in James Murdoch's new role, executives said yesterday. He will move into News International's Wapping headquarters in London within the next few days, and is expected to spend most of the next few months learning the newspaper business. "He is going to be up to his armpits in newspapers for the next few months because, although he has been immersed in them all his life because of his father and loves them, he has never worked in them."

The younger Mr Murdoch is credited with switching his father on to green issues, and his arrival at News International could ultimately lead to a change in tone at the newspapers. Friends say he is as engaged and keen on argument as his father, but with a more progressive and libertarian bent to his politics.

And yesterday he expressed an upbeat view on the newspaper industry's future in the internet age. "Media is fundamentally a business of ideas where top-quality, professional journalism and creative entertainment have an extremely bright future," he said. "Significant value can be created by focusing on pace, execution and taking advantage of the sea change we are seeing in media."

News International executives are believed to have discussed for several months promoting Rebekah Wade, editor of The Sun, to a powerful new role, and the departure of Les Hinton, chairman of News International for the past 12 years, created a vacancy. Mr Hinton, a former journalist in Mr Murdoch's native Australia, has been a loyal lieutenant to the media mogul for several decades and is being moved to New York to run the newly acquired Dow Jones company, owner of the Wall Street Journal.

However, Mr Murdoch used the vacancy to put his son in contention to succeed him as chairman and chief executive of the family controlled parent company, News Corp.