Speculation mounts as paybox's AGM looms

James Murdoch’s position as News Corp. chief operating officer and chairman of U.K. paybox BSkyB is looking increasingly precarious.

Last Friday he survived an attempt by angry stockholders at a Los Angeles meeting of News Corp.’s investors to remove him as a director, when almost 35% of them voted against his re-election to the board.

But there are certain to be calls for Murdoch to stand down as BSkyB chairman at the satcaster’s annual meeting in London Nov. 29.

If a majority of BSkyB’s independent shareholders vote against him, it would put the independent non-executives on BSkyB’s board “in a tricky position,” according to the BBC’s business editor, Robert Peston. Peston quoted “a source close to the board” who thought that in those circumstances they would almost certainly feel obliged to ask Murdoch to stand down.

On Nov. 10 Murdoch will face a second interrogation by pols at Britain’s House of Commons over the phone-hacking and police corruption scandal at the now defunct News of the World.

Murdoch has always insisted that he was ignorant of the fact that intercepting voice messages was widespread at the U.K. tabloid when he authorized a payment of £700,000 ($1.1 million) to soccer official Gordon Taylor in April 2008 after Taylor’s phone was hacked.

But his version of events has been challenged by ex-News of the World editor Colin Myler and News Intl. lawyer Tom Crone.

Michael Wolff, who wrote a biography of Rupert Murdoch, “The Man Who Owns the News,” told U.K. newspaper the Guardian that it was now inevitable that James Murdoch would leave . “James will probably go by himself, that’s what everybody will be waiting for,” he said , adding that a question mark also hangs over his brother, Lachlan. Wolff added that the size of the vote against James at Friday’s stockholder meeting had created “a very difficult family moment.”

Peston said James Murdoch’s credibility was heavily compromised. He said, “He wants to be seen as a talented business person in his own right, rather than the heir of one of the world’s most powerful media tycoons,” adding that his reputation had been damaged by the phone hacking scandal.

On Monday, ex-News Intl. topper Les Hinton, Rupert Murdoch’s right-hand man for around half a century, said, “I see no reason why James Murdoch should resign.” Hinton himself stood down from News Corp. in July.

Hinton again insisted to the pols that he was completely in the dark about acts of criminality at the News of the World when he was in charge of News Intl.

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