Rupert Murdoch has resigned as a director of several boards controlling his scandal-hit British newspapers, a spokeswoman said Saturday, the latest move in a strategy media analysts suggest is designed to insulate his profitable international businesses.
Mr. Murdoch, the founder of News Corporation, the $53 billion company whose holdings include the Fox Broadcasting television networks and the 20th Century Fox film company among others, resigned as the director of NI Group Ltd, Times Newspaper Holdings Ltd and Newscorp Investments in Britain, the spokeswoman said, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with company policy.
The split marks the end of his direct involvement with the British newspapers that were the foundation of his international media empire. The Sun tabloid and the Times and Sunday Times of London, which Mr. Murdoch was once reputed to run almost personally, have recently been tarnished by association with the phone hacking scandal that saw another of his tabloids, News of the World, shuttered last year amid revelations that it had illegally intercepted the voice mail messages of hundreds of people and allegations that it hacked computers and paid public officials in search of scoops.
The resignations followed an announcement late last month that News Corporation would split in two to separate its less profitable newspaper and book publishing businesses from its lucrative television and film interests. “Last week, Mr. Murdoch stepped down from a number of boards, many of them small subsidiary boards, both in the U.K. and U.S.,” said Daisy Dunlop, a spokeswoman for New International, the British newspaper subsidiary of News Corporation. said Saturday. “This is nothing more than a corporate housecleaning exercise before the company split.”
Company representatives did not return messages seeking further comment on Saturday evening. But an e-mail outlining the move to the company’s staff said that Mr. Murdoch intended to remain chairman of the newspaper and publishing business, said an employee who did not want to be identified discussing a confidential internal document.
In the wake of the split last month, Mr. Murdoch told the Fox Business channel that he had decided to step back from efforts to acquire all of British Sky Broadcasting, a British satellite television network which he partly owns. Referring to the billions of dollars he planned to invest in the company before his bid was derailed by the phonehacking scandal, he said, “If Britain doesn’t want them, we’ll invest them here. I’m much more bullish about America than I am about England.”
Privately, Mr. Murdoch had been convinced that his beloved British newspapers, two of which make significant losses, were becoming a financial and reputational drag on the rest of his interests, according to a person familiar with his thinking. There has been consistent speculation that he would seek to sell the newspapers entirely once dozens of impending lawsuits alleging phone hacking have been concluded.
The scandal, which is the subject of multiple police investigations and an explosive public inquiry here, is expected to continue in the coming months as prosecutors decide whether to pursue allegations that senior figures in Mr. Murdoch’s company were criminally complicit.