July 21, 2012 | Telegraph UK
Rupert Murdoch’s grip on UK newspapers is loosening “finger by finger”, as he resigns string of directorships.
Rupert Murdoch has resigned as a director of a string of companies behind The Sun, The Times and The Sunday Times, fuelling expectations that he is preparing to sell the newspaper group.
Companies House filings show that Mr Murdoch stepped down from the boards of the NI Group, Times Newspaper Holdings and News Corp Investments in the UK last week. He also quit a number of News Corp’s US boards, the details of which have yet to be disclosed by the US Securities and Exchange Commission.
News Corporation played down the significance of the resignations as “nothing more than a corporate housecleaning exercise prior to the company split”.
The media giant took a similar line when James Murdoch resigned a string of directorships at News International last November, pouring cold water on suggestions that he was walking away from the UK newspaper arm. He quit as chairman three months later.
News Corporation has already said it will split into two separately listed companies, distancing its embattled newspaper and book publishing interests from its rapidly growing film and television operations, which account for nearly 90pc of News Corp’s $4.2bn (£2.7bn) annual revenues.
Mr Murdoch has repeatedly insisted that he remains committed to the UK newspaper business. He vowed at the time of the announcement to remain a “very active chairman” of the publishing business. But his surprise resignation of directorships on both sides of the Atlantic has raised expectations that he is gearing up to sever all ties with the company.
Splitting News Corp would also put some much-needed distance between its film and television assets and the newspaper business, whose reputation is threatening the whole News Corp empire.
Claire Enders at Enders Analysis said Mr Murdoch’s resignations were part of the “slow fade of Rupert and James from the UK” that began last year and will be “complete and permanent”. “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.
“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],” she said.
Sources close to News Corp say that its executives have discussed the possibility that, after the split, the Murdochs could sell down their stake in the publishing division altogether and use the equity to help fund a leveraged buyout of the film and entertainment division.
It is unclear whether the business still plans to pursue this course of action, but doing so would allow Mr Murdoch to shake off shareholder pressures and revive a long-held plan eventually to appoint his son James Murdoch as his successor.
However, some analysts claim that News Corp investors want the Murdochs to buy the publishing assets outright.
This article was written by Katherine Rushton, Media, telecoms and technology editor.