(Please note that the story contains strong language in the final paragraph)
By Paul Sandle
EDINBURGH (Reuters) - Elisabeth Murdoch denied on Friday she wanted to succeed her father as head of the News Corp media empire, but acknowledged her role in forcing out one of his favorite newspaper executives over a phone hacking scandal.
Speaking at the Edinburgh Television Festival, she said that as a daughter it had been heartbreaking to see Rupert Murdoch humbled by the scandal which engulfed his News of the World newspaper, but played down her own ambitions.
“I really harbor absolutely no ambition for a top job (as head of News Corp),” she told a question and answer session.
Elisabeth Murdoch, who runs a television production company, cast herself as the moral face of the Murdoch children following a speech on Thursday evening when she took aim at her younger brother James.
Implicitly criticizing his handling of the scandal at the now defunct British newspaper, she said profit with no purpose was a “recipe for disaster”, picking up on comments made by James who was once considered their father’s heir.
Elisabeth said she had pressed for the resignation of her father’s favorite UK director, Rebekah Brooks, during family talks on how to deal with the phone hacking affair which convulsed the Murdoch empire last year.
Asked whether she had urged James to stand back and had said Brooks should resign, Elisabeth said: “Yes.”
“It was said within closed walls and Rebekah did resign. She had to resign.”
Brooks, who oversaw Murdoch’s British newspaper arm, has been charged with illegally intercepting voicemail messages and will appear in court on September 3.
Revelations that News of the World reporters hacked into the voicemails of celebrities, politicians and even a child murder victim caused uproar in Britain. News Corp had to halt a $12 billion bid to buy the rest of its British pay TV group BSkyB it did not already own, angering investors and sowing doubts as to whether James had what it took to run the $55 billion empire.
Rupert Murdoch, now aged 81, admitted to an inquiry into the scandal that he was experiencing “the most humbling day of my life”.
Elisabeth, who had left the family business after being sidelined in favor of her younger siblings James and Lachlan more than a decade ago, said she had mixed feelings about her father’s comment. “I was pleased he said that and I know he absolutely meant it, and if I am honest as a daughter it was heartbreaking,” she said.
Some interpreted her public attempt to differentiate herself from her business executive brother James and to showcase her own views on News Corp development as a covert pitch for the top job.
“There’s only one way to look at this,” Murdoch biographer Michael Wolff told Reuters. “This is part of a strategic repositioning of Liz Murdoch within the media world, within the business world and within the family.”
Elisabeth, 44, said she had given Thursday’s speech to stand up and be counted, adding that she did not want everybody in the company “tarred or marked with the same brush”.
The failure of the company to uncover and address the transgressions cost her brother James his job as chairman of News Group Newspapers and then as executive chairman of News Corp’s newspaper arm, although the resignations were strung out as the scale of the failings were laid bare.
James has resigned as chairman of BSkyB and moved to New York.
Elisabeth said James had been the sibling focused on the path to the top. “I think the consensus was that James is an incredibly able executive and he is very much the one of us who had chosen to be within the company,” she said.
She denied that they were fighting to follow in the footsteps of their father in a modern day soap opera equivalent of a court battle for the throne of the Murdoch empire.
“Everyone sort of likes the idea of the soap opera; the reality is really not that,” she said. “It’s more speculated upon than I think it merits.”
She said that, along with her siblings, she cared passionately about the future of the company, but executive succession was up to the board.
Top managers drawn from beyond the family, such as chief operating officer Chase Carey, are viewed as the current front runners to take over from Rupert at News Corp.
Elisabeth was going to take a position on the News Corp board after the company bought her production company Shine last year, but did not do so as the crisis unfolded.
She had no plans to join the board “at the moment”.
“I think and hope the family will be positive contributors even as shareholders in terms of the long-term interest of the company and the other shareholders, but that’s really as far as I see it,” she said.
Despite the nightmare of the last year, Elisabeth said the family remained close, and she was still “wholly inspired” by her father.
She described in the speech how Rupert had forged her values around the family table. On Friday she said he had also offered some less lofty but more practical career advice when she planned to study for a Master of Business Administration at Stanford University in the United States.
“‘You don’t need a fucking MBA,’ he said. ‘Go to Sky and learn about digital television’”.
Editing by Stephen Addison, Guy Faulconbridge and David Stamp