Kim Williams has resigned as chief executive of News Corp Australia, in a move that has shocked the media industry.
Williams, who has held the post only since December 2011, gave no reason publicly. But it is believed from an industry insider that his departure is related to conflict within the organisation.
Williams had felt marginalised by Rupert Murdoch and senior executives within News, the source said.
In his email to staff, Williams said “an action like this is always taken with a heavy heart and a mixed bag of feelings.
"It is certainly not a decision made lightly, or without an awareness of the impact decisions like this inevitably have on many close colleagues, clients and diverse bodies within the media community.”
The surprise resignation comes as News’ coverage of the election campaign has become a major issue. On Day One of the campaign Sydney’s Daily Telegraph headline said people now had the chance to “Kick This Mob Out”. Today, responding to Peter Beattie’s re-entry into politics, the Courier Mail’s headline was “Send In The Clown”.
Prime minister Kevin Rudd has attacked Murdoch all week and returned to the fray today, outlining a number of “facts”.
These included that Murdoch had said in “black and white that he wants Mr Abbott to be the next prime minister of Australia.” Rudd, who repeated his claim that Mr Murdoch owned 70% of Australia’s newspapers, said the media proprietor had brought one of his “right hand men”, Col Allan, from New York to Australia in recent weeks.
He said a large number of News editors were called to a meeting with Allan in Sydney last week and “the message delivered very clearly was… "go hard on Rudd, start from Sunday and don’t back off”.
“If you look at the front pages of News Limited tabloid papers as well as The Australian since then, what you see is a fairly consistent - not universally - but fairly consistent pattern,” the Prime Minister said.
Rudd repeated his earlier allegation that there was a feeling the NBN threatened the business model of Foxtel, which is half owned by News.
Williams will be replaced by Julian Clarke, who has been associated with News or its related companies for 30 years, most recently as chairman of the Herald and Weekly Times.
Chief Executive of News Corp Robert Thomson said that Williams “feels now is the right moment to leave the company… following the successful implementation of the first stage of News Corp Australia’s strategy to drive integration and improve efficiency, to invest in its editorial products and publishing system and secure a path of growth in a multi-platform world”.
Murdoch, News Corp Executive Chairman, thanked Williams for his service to the company, “but more importantly for his loyalty and his friendship to me and my family all of these years”.
A senior industry insider said the departure had been coming for some time. News executives including the editors of The Australian, Chris Mitchell and The Telegraph, Paul Whittaker have prevailed with Murdoch and Williams had been marginalised. The insider said Williams described the situation as “not so much about ideological differences, that is being left or right wing, but about what constitutes responsible journalism”.
The source said that Murdoch had wanted former prime minister Julia Gillard out and, although he felt less intensely about Kevin Rudd, Rudd’s comeback had threatened the removal of Labor.
In his email to staff Williams said that he wished Murdoch, Thomson and their new management team “nothing but the best continued success with the product and commercial rewards that their efforts so richly deserved”.
Williams said he would be forever grateful to colleagues who had been so helpful and constructively supportive in “the many matters we have mutually confronted. There have been many good wins, matched with some memorable awful problems and opponents!”
He said the leadership roles and issues that he had encountered had “at times been frankly really confronting” but it had been a source of perpetual renewal and reinforcement to have worked with so many “terrific colleagues”. Williams was appointed chief executive of News Corp Australia after 10 years as chief executive of Foxtel.