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James Murdoch to take the helms of Fox?

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James Murdoch (Reuters/Olivia Harris)

British broadcasting regulators had harsh words for News Corp’s James Murdoch this week, but the son of billionaire media mogul Rupert Murdoch is nevertheless expected to soon oversee the operations of the Fox Networks Group.

Only hours after the UK’s Office of Communications (Ofcom) essentially decided James Murdoch failed with his handling of the phone-hacking scandal that led to a partial collapse of News Corp last year, sources close to his father’s business leaked news on Friday that he is all but certain to become the head honcho at the Fox Network Group.

Under his new role, James Murdoch will run the operations of the Fox broadcast network, FX, National Geographic, Fox Kids and a bevy of sports stations, including Fox College Sports, Fox Sports Net and Fox Soccer Plus, as well as the Fuel TV music network. But although he isn’t exactly new to the broadcasting game, the timing might not be the best for Murdoch, whose reputation was almost ravaged after the phone hacking scandal made headlines last year.

Soon after the scandal was unearthed, several key figures in the News Corp empire announced their resignation, including Dow Jones CEO Les Hinton and News International’s chief, Rebekah Brooks. Just this week, Ofcom decided that neither News Corp CEO Rupert Murdoch nor his son James had been at fault. Ofcom did add, however, that things could have been handled a whole lot differently.

James Murdoch, said Ofcom, “repeatedly fell short of the conduct to be expected of him as a chief executive officer and chairman” of the organization.

“We consider James Murdoch’s conduct, including his failure to initiate action on his own account on a number of occasions, to be both difficult to comprehend and ill-judged,”Ofcom added. Murdoch stepped down from his role as chairman of News Corp’s UK newspaper division and then as chairman of BSkyB broadcasters as a result of the scandal, but that clearly hasn’t kept him from advancing in the company. Currently, 39-year-old Murdoch serves as deputy chief operating officer at News Corp., the number-three in command behind his father, the CEO, and Chief Operating Officer Chase Carey.

Despite Ofcom’s criticism, this week’s investigation concluded that News Corp. was “fit and proper” to hold a broadcast license and renewed its UK permit.

“After a lengthy review process, we are pleased that Ofcom has now reached its conclusion and we look forward to continuing to develop our business,” BSkyB announced after the decision this week.

On Friday, the Financial Times broke the news that Murdoch will now take over the American stations, a decision that is reported to have been in the works since as early as July but was left under the radar until the Ofcom investigation was said and done with.

Although News Corp. did not come out and publically confirm the appointment, they did issue a statement condemning the OfCom probe, adding that their criticism of James Murdoch was “not at all substantiated” by evidence.

“James deserves credit for his role as chief executive, then chairman and now non-executive director, in leading Sky to an outstanding record as a broadcaster, including its excellent compliance record, ”the press release reads.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, one News Corp shareholder told the UK’s Guardian that the rumored appointment is a “slap in the face for shareholders, not to mention victims of the hacking scandal.”

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