Murdoch quits as director of British papers

Move paves way for News Corp to sell off 'The Sun', 'The Times' and 'The Sunday Times'

The media mogul Rupert Murdoch resigned his directorships of a series of companies behind The Sun, The Times and The Sunday Times newspapers it was announced last night, prompting claims that he was "running away" from the group.

News International's chief executive, Tom Mockridge, told staff at the newspapers of the changes in an email circulated yesterday afternoon, which said: "This decision by Rupert is part of the preparation of the business for the upcoming restructure into two companies." The move to step down from News International and Times Newspapers was explained as "nothing more than corporate house-cleaning".

News Corporation, the parent company of News International, had already mapped out plans to split the company into two entities, so that the newspaper side of the business, hit by the phone-hacking scandal and closure of the News of the World, runs separately from the film and TV operations.

Mr Mockridge's email insisted: "He [Mr Murdoch] remains fully committed to our business as chairman of what will become the largest newspaper... group in the world."

Despite insisting it was "house-cleaning" it fuelled further speculation over Mr Murdoch's continued future at the newspaper group he used to create his media empire. It also sparked questions over who will lead the company in the future.

The Labour MP Tom Watson, of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, said last night: "It's hard not to draw the conclusion that Mr Murdoch is deserting his loyal staff who are left to clean up the ruins after the wrongdoing that has been exposed. No matter how far he runs, he can never evade responsibility for creating a corporate culture that allowed widespread criminality to take place. I'm sure the few remaining acolytes he had left in London will smell betrayal in their nostrils this weekend."

The select committee investigation Mr Watson sat on described Mr Murdoch as "not a fit person" to run a major international business.

Mr Murdoch has felt the pressure from leading shareholders, most seriously when 18 of the biggest called for him to step down from the firm he built from a single newspaper in Adelaide. In contrast, News Corp's chief operating officer, Chase Carey, has been described as "a safe pair of hands" by shareholders.

Mr Murdoch's son James resigned from News International in November 2011, a move similarly downplayed by the company. He quit as chairman of BSkyB earlier this year. He had been seen as his father's preferred successor but in recent months Mr Carey, considered one of Mr Murdoch's most trusted lieutenants, has emerged as a more likely candidate.

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