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New head of Murdoch's embattled British newspapers is a 20-year News Corp. veteran
LONDON (AP) ' The new head of Rupert Murdoch's British newspapers is a seasoned operator in his global empire, presiding over the successful launch of an Italian pay television venture in direct competition with the powerful business interests of Premier Silvio Berlusconi. He is also seen as untainted by the phone hacking scandal in Britain.
Tom Mockridge, who has been CEO of Sky Italia since it started broadcasting in 2003, began his career at a newspaper in New Zealand and also worked as a spokesman for the Australian government. On Friday, he succeeded Rebekah Brooks as chief executive of News International, the British arm of Murdoch's News Corp., after she resigned in the scandal sweeping Britain's political and media circles.
In Italy, Mockridge, 55, implemented Murdoch's challenge to the business establishment, including the state-run RAI TV and Berlusconi's Mediaset, the largest commercial broadcaster in Italy. Sky Italia has dominated pay television in Italy and now has about 5 million subscribers.
"Tom is an outstanding executive with unrivaled experience across our journalism and television businesses," James Murdoch, head of the international operations of the New York-based News Corp., said in a statement. "I believe that Tom is the best person to move the company forward to a brighter future."
Corradino Mineo, director of RAI 24-hour news, said Mockridge "has the profile of a hard-charging, practical entrepreneur with his eye on profits, but that's all right."
"Their news broadcasts are well done, although very institutional," said Mineo, adding that the channel initially broadcast heavily on crime but has shifted to more politics.
The all-news Sky TG24 has drawn some big names of Italian journalism, though not necessarily on exclusive terms. It has mostly remained above the political fray, in contrast with the highly politicized landscape of Italian news on free-to-air channels.
"There is no magic formula. We have to feel as we go along," Mockridge said at the time of the platform's 2003 launch. "Rupert never says, 'Are you right or left?' He says, 'Did you break the story?'"
However, Sky and Berlusconi's Mediaset have been at odds, with some commentators speaking of a war between the two media giants. Sky has been trying to enter the digital terrestrial business while Mediaset has launched a pay-TV venture.
Last year, Mockridge called for the removal of 2003 legislation preventing Sky Italia from entering that digital terrestrial market, which is replacing free-to-air TV. The European Union ruled in Sky Italia's favor, and the decision was upheld by Italy's top administrative court.
Sky said it was damaged when Berlusconi's government doubled the value-added tax applied to satellite subscriptions. Berlusconi has accused Murdoch of launching a personal attack against him, due to some articles in the Murdoch-owned press about Berlusconi's scandals.
Most of Sky's success has been due to its coverage of football, both of the domestic Serie A league and international competitions such as the World Cup and Olympic Games.
Upon launching the subscription-based platform, Mockridge put the emphasis on things Italian: he held the presentation at the legendary Cinecitta movie studio and juggled a soccer ball with the Sky logo before the cameras.
Football coverage has been revolutionized in Italy with Sky, going from the staid, old-fashioned style of state broadcaster RAI to the slick, star-filled, multi-channel option offered by Sky.
Mockridge also oversaw News Corp.'s television operations in Europe outside Britain, the company said. He joined Murdoch's operation in 1991, working for the Australian newspaper firm News Ltd.
Laura Cioli, Sky Italia chief operating officer, and Domenico Labianca, chief finance officer, will take up Mockridge's Italian responsibilities on an interim basis, News Corp. said.
Victor L. Simpson and Alessandra Rizzo contributed to this story