LONDON – James Murdoch stepped down as chairman of British Sky Broadcasting on Tuesday, saying he could become “a lightning rod” for attacks on the satellite network following his role in the long-running phone-hacking scandal.
In a letter to the board of BSkyB, Britain’s largest pay TV provider, Murdoch said: “I am aware that my role as chairman could become a lightning rod for BSkyB and I believe that my resignation will help to ensure that there is no false conflation with events at a separate organisation.”
Murdoch, who will be replaced by Nicholas Ferguson, previously the company’s deputy chairman, will remain on the BSkyB board as a non-executive director.
News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch responded to the announcement of his son’s departure in a joint statement with Chase Carey, News Corp.’s chief operating officer, saying: “We are grateful for James Murdoch’s successful leadership of BSkyB. He has played a major role in propelling the company into the market-leading position it enjoys today — and in the process has been instrumental in creating substantial value for News Corporation shareholders.”
It was the second time this year that James Murdoch quit a senior corporate role. In February, Murdoch resigned as the chief executive of News International, the scandal-hit British newspaper arm of News Corp., saying he wanted to focus on global television operations.
The youngest of Rupert Murdoch’s sons, James, 39, was widely considered the heir-apparent to his father’s media empire prior to the phone-hacking scandal that led to the closure of the News of the World.
Revelations last summer that News of the World had hacked into the phone messages of celebrities, politicians and murder victims triggered a string of high-profile arrests and resignations in Britain and scuttled Rupert Murdoch’s bid for full control of BSkyB.
James Murdoch’s departure comes ahead of a report expected at the end of April by a British parliamentary committee that has twice grilled him over the extent of his knowledge of phone hacking while he was head of News International. Murdoch has repeatedly denied that he has misled lawmakers.
Ofcom, Britain’s broadcast media regulator, also was investigating whether Murdoch was a “fit and proper” operator under its licensing rules.
In a statement, Ferguson thanked Murdoch for his “outstanding contribution” and said that “the board’s support for James and belief in his integrity remain strong,” adding, “We understand his decision to step aside at this time.”