BSkyB exec backs James Murdoch

But outside satcaster, phone-hacking scandal questions persist

LONDON — The deputy chairman of U.K. paybox BSkyB, Nick Ferguson, threw his weight behind the satcaster’s beleaguered chairman, James Murdoch, on Friday.

Ferguson said that Murdoch had done a “first class job” at the feevee, adding that BSkyB’s independent directors have given Murdoch their unanimous backing ahead of an expected vote on his future at BSkyB at the annual meeting on Nov. 29.

His public letter was published the day after Murdoch was questioned by a British committee of pols for the second time in four months in connection with the phone-hacking scandal at a News Intl. paper during his tenure as topper of News Corp.’s British publishing arm.

Ferguson said the phone-hacking scandal at the now defunct Sunday tabloid, the News of the World, had not had a negative impact on BSkyB — even though it scuppered New Corp.’s $14 billion bid to buy the 61% of BSkyB it did not already own.

“We have seen no effect on sales, customers or suppliers over the last five months,” Ferguson wrote. “We have seen no effect on the share price. … Finally, we have seen no negative effect internally.”

Ferguson said that he and his fellow independent directors had always been impressed by Murdoch’s work at BSkyB, which he ran before father Rupert promoted him to a bigger role that included responsibility for News Intl.

“We have known James for some eight years, and during that time he has always acted with integrity in the eyes of both the board and the senior management. If this was to change, clearly the independent directors would re-evaluate the position,” Ferguson said.

At his second appearance before pols on Thursday, Murdoch again insisted he was not told that phone hacking was widespread when he approved a payment of £725,000 ($1.1 billion) in 2008 to U.K. soccer official Gordon Taylor, whose phone was hacked.

As recently as late 2010, News Intl. blamed the practice on a single rogue reporter.

But former News Intl. lawyer Tom Crone said that Murdoch’s latest evidence was “disingenuous”; he claimed he had told Murdoch of the extent of the practice three years ago.

Meanwhile U.K. media commentator Roy Greenslade, writing in the Guardian, the British paper that broke the phone-hacking story, said: “What kind of company boss is it that fails to show any curiosity about a massive payment in controversial circumstances? A deceitful one or an incompetent one?”