Rupert Murdoch has resigned his directorships in UK companies that control titles including The Sun, The Times and The Sunday Times.
A company spokeswoman said yesterday that the 81-year-old founder of News Corporation had quit last week as a director of News International, the Times Newspaper Holdings, and Newscorp Investments in Britain.
Employees at the British newspapers had that day received a corporate e-mail confirming Murdoch’s moves but , said the New York Times, "apparently eager to calm disquiet among thousands of staff" the company offered assurances that Murdoch and his family had no immediate plans to sever their connection to the newspapers.
The British newspapers were central to building Murdoch’s fortune in the years after he expanded beyond his native Australia, and before he moved on to far more profitable enterprises in the United States, said the NYT.
“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.,” a spokeswoman for News International, the British newspaper subsidiary of the News Corporation, said on Saturday.
She described Mr. Murdoch’s resignations from the British directorships as “nothing more than a corporate housecleaning exercise” ahead of the restructuring announced last month that will split News Corporation into two separate entities.
One company will consist primarily of newspapers and other print assets. The other will own the more profitable television and film enterprises.
The latter brought profits of $4.6 billion in the fiscal year that ended in June 2011- more than five times what the publishing businesses earned, said the NYT.
The e-mail said Murdoch would remain personally involved in the British newspaper operations as chairman of the newspaper and publishing business that will be set up as part of the split.
Murdoch has had a strong personal bond with the British papers since moving to London from Australia in the 1960s. But the papers have have been "badly tarnished in the past year by revelations of phone hacking and other newsroom wrongdoing, particularly at The Sun and The News of the World, " said the NYT.
Murdoch is said to have become convinced that the British papers, including The Times and The Sunday Times, which have lost tens of millions in recent years, have become a "financial and reputational drag on the News Corporation’s other holdings," said the American paper.
There has been mounting speculation among corporate analysts, said the NYT that he would seek to sell the newspapers once dozens of impending lawsuits stemming from the phone-hacking have been concluded.
Media analyst Claire Enders told the Guardian Murdoch's resignations were part of the "controlled fade of Rupert and James from the UK" that began last year in order to take a "psychological step back" from embarrassments such as the recent phone hacking scandal.
"It's the big farewell, it's time to move on. They are leaving the country and they won't be back. It is quite a historic moment," she said.