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Pressure remains on the Murdochs

Don’t for a minute think James Murdoch’s decision to abandon the chairmanship of BSkyB means the company will somehow break away from the Murdoch grasp or, as Bloomberg claims, allow News Corp to return with a new bid for the UK satellite TV group.

New chairman Nick Ferguson may be the lead non-executive director, but he was a champion supporter of James as chairman. Deputy chair Tom Mockridge is a long-time Murdoch executive who has been trusted with various roles since joining the group in Australia at Foxtel. He was parachuted in from Sky Italia to be chief executive of News International last year and steady the ship after Rebekah Brooks was arrested and resigned. Ferguson, as chairman, now must find five new independent directors required to refresh and balance BSkyB’s board. For the time being the company remains even more firmly under the thumb of News and the Murdochs.

The appearances of Rupert and James at the next stage of the Leveson inquiry in London starting April 23 (politicians and the media will be examined) ensures pressure remains on the family. Then there’s the report of the Parliamentary committee that examined the phone-hacking story — it won’t report until later this month, or into May. All this means that News Corp and both Murdochs remain firmly in the gun so far as BSkyB’s licence is concerned.

The UK media regulator Ofcom is examining whether BSkyB is a ”fit and proper person” to hold a broadcasting licence. It is said to be focusing on James’s role as BSkyB chair and News Corp as a 39% owner. If Ofcom finds against BSkyB, News Corp could be forced to sell some of its holding or James could have to step down as a director. If News Corp is forced to sell, Mockridge would be under pressure to quit, especially as he is so close to the Murdochs.

Meanwhile, The Guardian reports News International has asked for a month’s extension to file its latest accounts with the UK Companies regulator: ”The company, which trades under the name of NI Group Ltd, made the request following its failure to post accounts for the year up to July 3, 2011 by the due date of March 31.” —  Glenn Dyer

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