London, July 22 (Agencies): Media baron Rupert Murdoch has resigned from a string of directorships controlling his News Corporation’s UK titles and those in India, the US and Australia, fuelling speculation that he may be preparing to sell his newspaper group in London.
In June, Murdoch, 81, had announced the separation of newspapers from the lucrative film and television divisions of parent company News Corp.
Murdoch’s latest move has fuelled speculation that his UK titles may be sold off to prevent the phone-hacking row from affecting the lucrative divisions of his empire.
In an email sent yesterday, staff at The Times, The Sunday Times and The Sun were told that Murdoch remained “fully committed” as chairman despite relinquishing positions on a number of UK boards, including the News International Group.
A News International spokesperson said: “Last week, Mr Murdoch stepped down from a number of boards, many of them small subsidiary boards, both in the UK and the US. This is nothing more than a corporate house-cleaning exercise prior to the company split.”
Murdoch’s son James, who was chairman of the British newspaper arm News International when the revelations emerged, has already quit the British newspapers and moved to the US.
Murdoch, the chief executive of News Corp, resigned from roles in News Corp Investments, News International Group Limited and Times Newspaper Holdings in the UK.
As part of the plan, the $53-billion media conglomerate will be split into two publicly traded companies, with the Murdoch family retaining control of both.
News Corp’s film and television divisions, including 20th Century Fox and the Fox broadcasting network, will be grouped in one company.
The other company will hold News Corp’s publishing interests, such as The Wall Street Journal, The Times, The Sun, The Australian, The New York Post and publisher HarperCollins.
“I wanted to let you know that Rupert Murdoch has resigned as director of a number of companies, including NI Group Limited, known to most of you as News International, and Times Newspapers Holdings Limited,” Tom Mockridge, the head of News International, said in the email.
“As you may be aware, Rupert resigned from a number of UK boards, including News Group Newspapers and Times Newspapers Limited, some time ago. He has also stepped down from more than a dozen boards of companies with interests in the US, Australia and India.”
Speculation had risen last year that News Corp could seek to sell the British papers, following pressure from shareholders over a scandal that also forced the group to cancel its planned acquisition of the whole of the lucrative pay-TV group BSkyB, which would have been the biggest deal in News Corp's history.
The announcement in June to split the business was seen as a clear signal that the group was distancing itself from its newspaper roots. Several inquiries into the phone-hacking scandal are now in various stages of progress.