Photo: AdrianDennis/AFP/Getty Images/NYMag.com
James Murdoch is finally out at News International, News Corp’s wing for its British newspapers.Given the hubbub about the news this morning, you might think that the announcement was a surprise, but in reality it has always seemed inevitable.
It was only last summer that a huge phone hacking scandal, on the back burner for years, finally caught on in the imagination of the public — in part due to a now somewhat discredited report on the implications of hacking a murdered schoolgirl’s voicemail.
James, a Harvard-drop out and former head of New York hip hop label Rawkus, was thrown into the spotlight by the controversy, forced to explain the actions of the company he was (at least technically) responsible for since 2007 to UK Parliament, and later to the Leveson Inquiry into UK press ethics.
The biggest problem for James is that despite his denials, he appears to have known about phone hacking since 2005, and a series of emails that appeared to show he had been informed of the scale of the problem in emails with Colin Myer, former editor of the now shuttered News of the World — in his defence, James said that it was a weekend, he had received the emails on his phone, and hadn’t really read them properly.
It’s long been suspected that James could actually be charged with a crime for his role in the scandal and subsequent cover-up. James no doubt knew he was in trouble — last November he removed himself from boards directly in charge of his UK newspapers, making today’s announcement less of a surprise.
Shareholders within News Corp were not happy with him either, with one major group calling for him to step down due to being “inextricably linked” to News Corp’s failed response to phone hacking.
Earlier this month new revelations appeared to show that News International implemented an email deletion policy in 2009 to in an attempt to “eliminate in a consistent manner” emails that “could be unhelpful in the context of future litigation in which a News International company is a defendant” — which appears to be illegal as part of a “conspiracy to pervert the Course of Justice”.
The fact that James is stepping down from the board doesn’t mean he can’t be tried with a crime, nor is it really a demotion — James remains on the board of BSkyB, very much more important to News Corp’s UK ambitions these days, and the younger Murdoch never really showed much affinity for newspapers. “Friends” of James tell the Guardian he was eager to get out and he is reported to have already moved to New York.
But it does show a further attempt on the part of News Corp to symbolically put an end to the phone hacking years, and show more of the compliant, happy-to-cooperate News Corp to authorities and shareholders.
At least one of those groups seem happy — News Corp stock is up 2.37% on the news so far today.
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