He leaves after a stormy 13 years to become managing director of BSkyB, the satellite television station half owned by Rupert Murdoch, proprietor of the Sun. Mr MacKenzie has no managerial experience except in newspapers. He is a superb journalistic technician but his people management - a noisy mixture of bullying and derision - is far from that recommended at business schools.
At BSkyB he will report to the chief executive, Sam Chisholm, a New Zealander with a hands-on reputation. Their task is to sell satellite dishes to more than the 3.5 million households that now own them. Growth has been disappointing since the multi-channel pay package was introduced last autumn. The appointment of a populist such as Mr MacKenzie means that Mr Murdoch feels he has to reach further downmarket to get new viewers.
Mr MacKenzie said he was sorry to be leaving 'the greatest job in journalism' . He added: 'I will very much miss the warmth, humanity and humour of Sun readers, but look forward to meeting them again as viewers with Sky.'
Nobody at News International, Mr Murdoch's British company, would discuss the move yesterday, but it could be connected with the Sun's recent harsh criticism of the Prime Minister, including a call for his resignation over 'back to basics'.
Mr Murdoch and the Sun have supported the Tories since 1974. While he does not demand slavish conformity from his papers, Mr Murdoch may have been troubled by its recent tone and felt that it was time for Mr MacKenzie to move. The new editor will be Stuart Higgins, deputy editor until last month, when he moved to the News of the World. He is 37, ten years younger than Mr MacKenzie.
Andrew Neil, editor of Mr Murdoch's Sunday Times, who also worked briefly at BSkyB, said Mr Mackenzie's unique contribution was to create a Tory paper read by the working classes. He said the new job was 'in many ways, a promotion'. Some colleagues are not so sure.
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