An e-mail sent to News Corp. employees today revealed that Rupert Murdoch has given up several key board positions, including those at the companies that oversee his U.K. newspapers: The Times, The Sunday Times, and The Sun. The resignations come just a little over a month after News Corp.’s board of directors approved a plan to divide the company’s scandal-ridden and money-losing publishing operations from its lucrative, U.S.-based entertainment ventures (which include Fox News and Twentieth Century Fox). Already, observers are reading the announcement as an indication of Murdoch’s readiness to unload his stake in the publishing business.
The e-mail did its best to dismiss that idea, calling the move “nothing more than a corporate housecleaning exercise prior to the company split.” (He also stepped down from “more than a dozen boards of companies with interests in the U.S., Australia and India.”)
In a bid to reassure employees amid swirling rumours of a possible sell-off, it adds: “[Murdoch] remains fully committed to our business as chairman of what will become the largest newspaper and digital group in the world and we look forward to seeing him in London over the Olympic Games.”
Still, things don’t look good for the Rupert and his beloved U.K. rags — or Rupert’s general presence in the U.K., the site of the phone-hacking scandal that set off the steady erosion of his reputation and power (along with that of his son and presumed heir-to-the-throne, James.) As one media analyst put it: “James and Rupert have decided that they are not welcome in the UK, and they’re right. There is an enforced emotional withdrawal from these assets because they are no longer useful [in terms of influence].”
Prior to the announcement, some News Corp. sources had suggested that the Murdochs might use the money from the sale of their stake in the publishing arm to finance a leveraged buyout of the film and entertainment division. It’s not exactly clear what these resignations mean for that possibility, though the Telegraph points out that doing so would relieve them of those tricky “shareholder pressures” and allow James to be appointed successor. Still, they added, “the grip of the Murdochs, finger by finger, has been loosened and it’s not in order to return triumphantly. It’s a permanent shift.”