Mockridge: trusted lieutenant to stem Murdoch crisis

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Tom Mockridge, a New Zealander who became chief executive of crisis-hit British newsapaper group News International on Friday after Rebekah Brooks quit, is one of Rupert Murdoch's most trusted lieutants.

Murdoch has put huge faith in the 56-year-old Mockridge, currently the chief executive of News Corp.-owned broadcaster Sky Italia, by giving him the task of saving his once prestigious newspaper division amid the phone-hacking scandal.

A former Australian government spokesman, Mockridge has considerable experience in both journalism and public relations, a combination the Murdochs hope will help him defend News International from political attack.

Mockridge has worked for the Murdochs for 20 years and is seen as being particularly close to Rupert Murdoch's son and heir apparent James, the chairman of News International and deputy chief operating officer of News Corp.

"Tom is an outstanding executive with unrivalled experience across our journalism and television businesses," said 38-year-old James Murdoch in a statement after Mockridge's appointment was announced.

"I believe that Tom is the best person to move the company forward."

But after closure of the News of the World and the end of Murdoch's bid for control of British pay-TV giant BSkyB last week, Mockridge will need all his knowhow to stop the rot spreading to the other News International papers.

Murdoch's British newspaper group also publishes The Sun -- Britain's biggest selling daily paper with sales of 2.8 million -- The Times, and the Sunday Times.

His immediate priority will be running the operating businesses of News International, while another of the company's executives, Will Lewis, has been tasked with dealing with the phone-hacking scandal.

Despite his long years with the Murdochs, the Antipodean has never before worked for News International, meaning he has not been tainted by the hacking scandal.

Under Mockridge's management, Sky Italia increased its number of subscribers to five million.

Mockridge is also no stranger to political battles. During his nine years at Sky Italia, he repeatedly clashed with Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi who controls rival Italian media group Mediaset.

These skirmishes will be good preparation for the fierce political fights that await him in Britain, where Prime Minister David Cameron and his political opponents have joined forces to denounce News International.

Political pressure was a major factor in Murdoch's decision to drop his bid for BSkyB this week amid claims that the News of the World hacked the phone of a murdered teenager and the relatives of dead British soldiers.

Mockridge joined Murdoch's empire in January 1991, working for newspaper company News Limited in Murdoch's native Australia, before which he was a spokesman in the Australian government.

He started his career as a newspaper journalist in New Zealand.

© 2011 AFP

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