After almost a decade on the Sky board, Murdoch yesterday announced to fellow directors that he felt “this is the right time to step aside… as attention continues to be paid to past events at News International.”
He added: “My role as chairman could become a lightning rod for BSkyB and I believe that my resignation will help to ensure that there is no false conflation with events at a separate organisation.”
James Murdoch, whose father Rupert’s company News Corp owns 39 per cent of BSkyB, is at the centre of several ongoing investigations.
The parliamentary inquiry into phone hacking at News International publications – which is looking into James Murdoch’s leadership of the group during that time – is due to deliver its verdict later this month, leading to speculation that he jumped from BSkyB before he was pushed.
Murdoch is expected to be called before the Leveson inquiry within the next few weeks. BSkyB is the subject of a recently escalated Ofcom probe into whether it is “fit and proper” to own a broadcast licence.
Murdoch’s exit from the chair of BSkyB is his fifth resignation in as many months. In November he relinquished the chairmanship of News Group Newspapers, the holding company of the Sun and the now defunct News of the World, before stepping down as executive chairman of News International in February.
He also recently quit his positions on the boards of GlaxoSmithKline and Sotheby’s auction house.
Despite reports last summer that Sky’s independent directors wanted to get rid of James Murdoch, the chairman was re-elected to his seat at the company’s shareholder meeting in November. But 44 per cent of independent shareholders – including JP Morgan, UBS and Legal & General – opposed or abstained from the vote.
The chair will be taken by Nicholas Ferguson, currently deputy chairman and senior independent director. Tom Mockridge, a non-executive director of BSkyB and chief executive of News International, will step up to deputy.