Rupert Murdoch on Sunday fuelled speculation that he could be about to sell his British newspapers which have been embroiled in a series of phone hacking and corruption scandals after he dramatically stepped down from the boards of a string of his companies behind The Times, The Sunday Times and The Sun.

The 81-year-old magnate, who has dominated the British media scene for more than 30 years, resigned as director of his U.K. media group News International; NewsCorp Investments; and Times Newspaper Holdings.

The BBC said that he had also resigned from boards of a number of subsidiaries in America, Australia and India.

The move was said to be part of a plan to split his U.S.-based flagship company News Corporation into separate publishing and broadcasting businesses following a backlash from shareholders in the wake of the News of the World hacking row.

Mr. Murdoch is expected to chair both companies; however, he would be the chief executive of only his television business in what is seen as a move to distance himself from his crisis-hit newspapers Experts said it would protect News Corp’s television operations such as Sky TV, in which it has 39 per cent stake, from the fallout of the hacking scandal.

The publishing business is expected to be smaller than the new broadcast company.

News International tried to play down the significance of his resignations describing them as “a corporate house-cleaning exercise prior to the company split”.

“Last week, Mr. Murdoch stepped down from a number of boards, many of them small subsidiary boards, both in the U.K. and U.S.. This is nothing more than a corporate house-cleaning exercise prior to the company split,” said a spokesman.

News International assured the staff that Mr. Murdoch remained “fully committed” to the company.

Earlier this year, his son James Murdoch quit as executive chairman of News International following widespread criticism of his handling of the hacking crisis.

One leading media analyst described the latest development as a “controlled fade out of Rupert and James from the U.K.” signalling the beginning of the end of the tumultuous Murdoch era in British journalism.

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