LONDON — Rupert Murdoch has resigned from a string of directorships related to his U.K. newspapers.
Murdoch quit directorships at NI Group Ltd, News Corp. Investments and Times Newspaper Holdings on Friday.
These oversee investments in his British newspapers, the Sun, the Times and the Sunday Times.
The mogul has also resigned from a number of other News Corp. boards in Australia and India.
It is not yet clear which of News Corp.’s U.S. boards he has left. Those details had not been disclosed by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, according to Blighty’s Telegraph newspaper, which broke the story on Saturday.
News Corp. played down the significance of the move describing it “as routine corporate housekeeping” and a prelude to the company being split into two.
News Corp. is in the process of separating its newspaper and book publishing interests from its considerably more lucrative TV and film activities.
But some U.K. media commentators see the move as another signal that the 81-year-old mogul is distancing himself from his damaged U.K. newspaper operation and may be preparing to sell it off.
News Intl. is still embroiled in the phone hacking and police corruption scandal that forced Murdoch to close Sunday tabloid the News of the World a year ago. Ex-News Intl. CEO Rebekah Brooks will appear in court this year facing perjury charges in relation to the scandal.
Media analyst Steve Hewlett told the BBC that it was no surprise that News Corp. was moving away from its newspaper business because the phone hacking saga and declining circulation had created “a nightmare.”
He said, “For Rupert Murdoch to make this move away from these titles, in which he has invested 40 years of his life, is plainly significant.”
U.K. media analyst Claire Enders said Murdoch’s resignations were part of the “controlled fade of Rupert and James from the U.K.” that began last year in order to take a “psychological step back” from embarrassments like phone hacking.
She said, “It’s the big farewell, it’s time to move on. They are leaving the country and they won’t be back. It is quite a historic moment.
“This follows on from comments Murdoch made a few weeks ago when he remarked on the unfriendliness of the U.K., but it’s something that is part of the longterm strategy.”
In a statement, News Intl. said, “This is nothing more than a corporate housecleaning exercise prior to the company split.”
Murdoch is expected to remain chairman of both businesses but to be CEO of only the TV and film side.