News Corporation’s British newspaper unit, embroiled in the aftermath of a phone hacking scandal, lost another high-ranking executive on Wednesday when the editor of The Times of London announced he would step down. The executive, James Harding, considered by many a golden boy of British journalism, said he would depart his post at The Times amid pressure from News Corporation’s senior leadership.
He called the corporation’s chief executive, Rupert Murdoch, early Wednesday to offer his resignation, the second in two weeks at News International, the British newspaper subsidiary of News Corporation. On December 2, Tom Mockridge, chief executive of News International, announced his resignation.
“It has been made clear to me that News Corporation would like to appoint a new editor of The Times,” Harding told his staff. “I have therefore agreed to stand down.”
The same day that Harding said he would depart, regulatory filings showed that Rebekah Brooks, a former chief executive of News International, had received a $17.6-million severance package that included “compensation for loss of office” and “various ongoing benefits.”
Brooks, who had served as editor of the News of the World and Sun tabloids, both accused of widespread phone hacking, is expected to stand trial in September over accusations of illegal payments to public officials. She has also been charged with conspiracy to intercept voice mail messages and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. She has denied the accusations.
The settlement agreement, reached during Ms. Brooks’s departure in July 2011 at the height of the phone hacking scandal at The News of the World, stipulates that she would be required to return much of her compensation if she were found guilty.
Harding took over as editor of The Times in 2007 at 38, making him one of the youngest to hold the job in the broadsheet’s 227-year history. His counterpart at The Sunday Times, John Witherow, was widely expected to replace him. News International declined to comment.
Murdoch bought The Times in 1981, adding prestige and influence to his stable of British tabloids. In October, the paper’s weekday circulation was down 7.82 per cent from the same month last year, to 403,770 readers, according to Britain’s Audit Bureau of Circulations.
Under Harding’s leadership, The Times took a relatively critical stance against its parent company’s handling of the hacking scandal, and speculation arose that the spirited coverage had led to his ouster.
“In uniquely difficult circumstances I hope we have covered the story that has swirled around us with the integrity and independence that readers of The Times expect of us,” Harding told his staff.
In a statement, Murdoch said, “James has been a distinguished editor for The Times” and helped lead the paper “through difficult times.”
News Corporation is readying itself to split off its publishing assets into a separate publicly traded entity. The new company will be led by Robert Thomson, currently the managing editor of The Wall Street Journal and editor in chief of Dow Jones.