Rupert Murdoch Announces Shake-Up as News Corp.'s Australia Head Steps Down

Rupert Murdoch - Delivers Keynote At The National Summit - H - 2011
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Longtime CEO John Hartigan Resigns From News Ltd, Foxtel Boss Kim Williams Takes The Reins, Richard Freudenstein Joins Foxtel.

Rupert Murdoch announced a major shake up at the top level of his Australian operations on Wednesday, as News Limited chairman and CEO John Hartigan resigned after 41 years with the company.

Hartigan will be replaced by Foxtel managing director Kim Williams, who becomes CEO while Murdoch takes greater control of the local arm of his business, stepping in as chairman. Former BSkyB chief operating officer Richard Freudenstein, currently CEO Of News Digital Media  and broadsheet newspaper The Australian, takes over as CEO of Foxtel, the country’s largest pay TV business, which is 25 percent owned by News Ltd.

In a statement Murdoch praised Hartigan’s years with the group, starting as a reporter and moving up to group editorial director, chief executive for 11 years and chairman and chief executive for the past six. “

“John’s decision will end a distinguished 41 year career with News in which he has given us exemplary service and incredible leadership. Few people have contributed as much as John to the quality of journalism in Australia. He has earned enormous respect among both colleagues and competitors,” Murdoch said.

In recent years Hartigan also  led the formation of "Australia's Right to Know", a coalition of media organizations that campaign for protection of free speech.

Hartigan also moved to distance News’ Australian business from the U.K. phone hacking scandal which engulfed sister company News International this year, saying in an open letter on The Australian’s web site in July that  "phone hacking is the antithesis of everything we stand for. It is a terrible slur on our craft".

"It is appropriate to remind everyone at News Limited that unethical and immoral behavior is not tolerated. I am confident that the practices that have been uncovered in the UK do not exist in Australia, at News or any other respectable media outlet,” Hartigan said.

At the same time the company’s newspapers have seen their revenues fall, while tos pay TV interests including a 25% stake in Foxtel and 50% of channel provider Fox Sports, continue on a growth trajectory.

And just this month News erected a paywall around the digital edition of its quality broadsheet The Australian. News Limited ‘s newspapers have also been accused of running a campaign of regime change against the federal Labor government, and an independent inquiry is looking at, amongst other things, News Limited’s dominance of the newspaper market here.

Hartigan said of his departure: “I am immensely proud of News. I am privileged to have worked for such a great company. I want to thank the many colleagues that have helped, encouraged, inspired and challenged me to be the best I can be. In Rupert, I have been fortunate to work for a proprietor who cares passionately about journalism and the vital role that a free press plays in a democracy”.

Murdoch said Williams, a former head of Fox Studios Australia and current chairman of the Sydney Opera House, “is an exceptionally talented media executive who, over the past decade has transformed Foxtel from a small pay TV business into one of the most innovative and substantial television operations in Australia”.

“In his new role, Kim will be responsible for building a strong leadership position for News Limited in digital media in Australia, significantly expanding the audience for our journalism and ensuring that our newspapers remain clear leaders in each of their markets. I believe Kim is perfectly placed to drive the next phase of this exciting transformation,” Murdoch added.

Of Freudenstein’s appointment to Foxtel the News Corp chief said: “Richard has been an outstanding executive with News for almost two decades. He has a highly successful record in pay TV in the UK and Australia and in digital media in Australia where he has built a portfolio of digital properties that now reach 6.5 million people every month. We could not have found a better replacement for Kim Williams than Richard Freudenstein”. .

The changes take effect Dec. 5.