James Murdoch quits board of UK publishers

Steps down from News Group Newspapers

LONDON — James Murdoch has resigned as director of the British companies that publish The Times, The Sunday Times and the Sun.

Records at Companies House in London show James Murdoch stepped down from the boards of News Group Newspapers Limited, publisher of The Sun, and Times Newspapers Limited in September.

News Group Newspapers ran the defunct News of the World, which closed in July following revelations that the paper had hacked the mobile phone owned by murdered British school girl Milly Dowler.

Murdoch remains News Corp.’s deputy COO, chairman of U.K. paybox BSkyB and chairman of News International, publisher of The Times, The Sunday Times and The Sun.

News Group Newspapers is the company named in numerous lawsuits for alleged breaches of privacy related to phone hacking at the News of the World.

A News Corporation spokesman said: “James Murdoch doesn’t step back from NI. He remains chairman.”

Murdoch also remains a director of the News International Corporation Ltd. holding group.

The resignations have immediately sparked speculation in Blighty over News Corp.’s future commitment to its U.K. newspapers.

Some commentators believe News Corp. will move out of publishing newspapers in Blighty.

The News of the World was the only cash cow and in an increasingly digital world newspapers are not part of the media giant’s core activities, which revolve around screen-based entertainment and news.

And that was true even before the havoc created by phone hacking and allegations of bribing police at the News of the World.

According to a report in U.K. newspaper the Guardian, insiders said “nobody should read too much into the changes” on the boards.

These sources noted that James Murdoch also remains on the Times editorial board, which approves the appointment of new Times editors.

There have been calls for Murdoch to stand down as chairman of BSkyB, where he faces a critical vote at the paybox’s annual general meeting to be held Nov. 29.

Earlier this month James Murdoch was questioned for a second time by British pols investigating phone hacking at the News of the World over discrepancies between his evidence and that of two former News International employees.

Ex-News of the World lawyer Tom Crone and editor Colin Myler told the pols that Murdoch was aware that phone hacking was widespread at the tabloid when he sanctioned a payment of $1.1 billion to U.K. soccer boss Gordon Taylor, whose phone had been hacked. Murdoch denies this.

A News International statement said: “Following the appointment of Tom Mockridge as CEO of News International, in September James Murdoch stepped down from the boards of a number of News International subsidiary companies including News Group Newspapers (NGN) and Times Newspapers Ltd (TNL). He remains chairman of NI Group Ltd (News International) and a director of Times Newspapers Holdings Ltd (TNHL), the holding company of Times Newspapers.”