Rupert Murdoch’s U.K. newspaper unit, reeling from a phone-hacking scandal, named its third chief executive officer in less than 18 months as the parent company prepares to split into two.
Mike Darcey, 47 years old and currently chief operating officer at pay-TV operator British Sky Broadcasting Group Plc, will replace CEO Tom Mockridge, who plans to step down by the end of the year, the company said. Mockridge last year took over from Rebekah Brooks, who quit over the hacking and bribery scandal and faces a criminal trial next year.
News Corp., bowing to pressure from shareholders, agreed in June to break off the publishing assets, which are growing more slowly than its Fox entertainment businesses. The company today named Wall Street Journal editor Robert Thomson to lead the publishing spinoff. Darcey’s task will be to make sure the U.K. publishing business moves on from the scandal, said Warren Johnson, a London-based media consultant at W Communications.
“Getting someone from a trusted and untarnished bit of their organization makes sense,” Johnson said in an interview. “He’s someone from outside the news business but still within the company so he understands how News Corp. works.”
News Corp., based in New York, owns about 39 percent of BSkyB, the U.K.’s biggest pay-TV operator. The company bid 7.8 billion pounds ($12.5 billion) for the rest of BSkyB it didn’t own and then dropped the offer amid the phone-hacking revelations.
BSkyB rose 1.3 percent to 769 pence in London as of 3:02 p.m. while News Corp. gained 0.9 percent to $24.87 in New York.
Mockridge resigned because he wasn’t “comfortable” with the role offered to him amid the separation of Murdoch’s publishing businesses from entertainment, he told staff in an e-mail.
Darcey, who took over as BSkyB COO in November 2006, also sits on the boards of National Geographic Channels International and the U.K. unit of Viacom Inc.’s Nickelodeon TV business. He is also chairman of the board of trustees of the Royal Television Society. Before joining Sky in 1998, he had worked as an economic advisor for 11 years.
News International has been embroiled in government and police probes over phone-hacking at its best-selling Sun daily and the News of the World tabloid, which has been shut down.
News Corp. has spent more than $315 million on civil settlements, legal fees and other costs related to the scandal. More than 80 people have been arrested for intercepting voice mail and bribing public employees. Results from a press-ethics probe last week recommended Britain set up an independent media regulator in response to wrongdoing by journalists.
In addition to being an outsider to the phone-hacking debacle, Darcey brings digital expertise to News International, which is struggling like many of its peers to adapt to online formats amid declining print-based revenue and the migration of readers to the Internet, said Douglas McCabe, a media analyst at Enders Analysis in London.
“There are big changes at all these businesses in order to be able to operate in a digital world, and that’s where Mike’s expertise will be brilliant,” he said. “Sky is one of most forward-thinking media platforms in the world.”
BSkyB said it will divide Darcey’s role among other members of the executive team and isn’t currently searching for a replacement.
Bloomberg LP, the parent of Bloomberg News, competes with News Corp. units in providing financial news and information.
In addition to operating the Wall Street Journal and Times of London, News Corp.’s publishing spinoff will include newspapers in the U.S., U.K. and Australia, as well as the HarperCollins book division, education and marketing assets. News Corp. plans to complete the breakup by the middle of next year.