NEW YORK - Tom Mockridge, chief executive since July 2011 of News International, will leave his post at the end of the year, Rupert Murdoch, chairman of the firm's parent company News Corporation, said Sunday.
Mockridge's departure sets the stage for an anticipated restructure of News Corporation into two separate divisions with a publishing arm controlling newspapers and an entertainment business for television and film interests.
That recently announced move came in the wake of heavy criticism, including from shareholders, about the company's handling of a phone hacking scandal that erupted in Murdoch's media empire in Britain.
In the wake of that scandal, the News of the World newspaper was closed and a major police investigation of the alleged hacking is ongoing with court cases against two former Murdoch editors scheduled to take place next year.
Announcing Mockridge's departure, Murdoch said in a statement it had been his pleasure to have him as a colleague for 22 years.
"Tom has always been a skilled executive and a trusted friend," Murdoch said in a statement.
"His decision to step down is absolutely and entirely his own. I am sorry to see him leave us but I know he will be a great success wherever he goes."
The publishing magnate added that Mockridge's long tenure encompassed "his early days with our newspaper group in Australia, his incredible work building SKY Italia," as well as "his steadfast leadership of News International."
No reasons were given for Mockridge's sudden departure but there is much speculation that he was to miss out on the top job of the soon to be formed publishing division of News Corp.
The favourite for that post is reportedly Robert Thomson, the top executive at the Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal and Dow Jones Newswires and a former editor of The Times in London.
News Corp, one of the biggest media-entertainment conglomerates, owns the 20th Century Fox film studios and Fox broadcasting operations, along with cable television assets, newspapers in the US, Britain and Australia.
It also owns the HarperCollins publishing house.
A company statement said Mockridge joined News Ltd in Australia in 1991, was CEO of Foxtel from 1997 to 2000, and spent a year with James Murdoch at Star TV.
He then transferred to New Zealand as CEO of what was then the company's newspaper operations and Chair of SkyNZ, before moving to Italy in 2002 to create Sky Italia.
Mockridge then took the role of CEO European Television, and serves on the boards of BSkyB and Sky Deutschland and is Chair of Fox Turkey.