The departure of James Murdoch as executive chairman of News International is not, in the broad sweep of history, an especially momentous event. Still only 39, he held the post for four, not particularly distinguished, years; he moves on to what are believed to be his first loves, global television and New York. In the narrower context of British newspapers, however, and the annals of the Murdoch media empire, his move carries enormous significance and symbolism.
In practical terms, it means that, for the first time, there is no Murdoch in direct charge of News International – although the grand patron's interest endures, as was evident when Rupert oversaw the launch of The Sun on Sunday. More to the point, however, is what it signifies: not just the abject failure of James Murdoch's chairmanship and his father's plans for the succession, but an attempt to set the seal on the sleazy practices that appear to have flourished at the popular end of the Murdoch newspaper stable.
It is true that James Murdoch has never been accused of direct involvement in illegality, whether phone hacking or the payments to police and others that, it was claimed this week, were part of the journalistic culture at The Sun and the News of the World. Mr Murdoch's sins appear to have been those of omission rather than commission: inattention to emails, lack of curiosity about the genesis of compensation payments, laxness in relation to the newsgathering methods of his journalists for which, as chairman, he bore ultimate responsibility.
It would be good to believe that James Murdoch's resignation ends a chapter that has regrettably damaged the reputation of the press in Britain beyond the News International titles directly impugned. His scalp might also be seen as vindication, both of the Leveson Inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the media, and also of the parliamentary hearings into phone hacking, where his unsatisfactory answers to MPs' questions only fuelled existing doubts. But the son's departure from London in such circumstances is humiliating, both for him and the company. The day when News Corporation and the Murdochs exit from UK newspapers completely could be fast approaching.Reuse content