SYDNEY - News Corp Australia chief Kim Williams quit Friday after just 20 months in the job with media baron Rupert Murdoch appointing experienced executive and company man Julian Clarke to replace him.
The shock announcement comes in the middle of an election campaign in Australia where the Murdoch media has made clear it wants conservative opposition leader Tony Abbott to replace Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.
It also follows the mogul jetting in his trusted Australian lieutenant, New York Post editor-in-chief Col Allan, last week to shake up his titles.
"Kim has been a steady and courageous leader at a time when our businesses have faced unprecedented pressure and economic challenges," said Murdoch, who began his global empire in Australia.
"I want to thank him for his unwavering commitment, and the blood, sweat and tears he has put into News Corp Australia."
Williams took on the job in December 2011, moving from his role as head of Foxtel, a News Corp joint venture that is Australia's largest pay television company.
It followed a major shake-up during which Murdoch assumed the role of chairman of his Australian arm, which was then called News Limited.
"I am confident that I leave the company in a strong position and with good foundations for the future," said Williams in a statement.
"It has been a privilege to work for News Corp across almost 20 years, and I have no doubt it will remain the most memorable element in my professional commercial life."
His replacement Clarke was most recently chairman of Murdoch's Melbourne-based Herald and Weekly Times group in Australia, whose titles include the Herald Sun. He has been with the company for 30 years.
"I am so pleased to have Julian taking the helm at News Corp Australia," said Murdoch.
"He is an experienced executive with a unique understanding of our company's culture, and the immense energy and clarity of vision necessary to drive our properties forward at this challenging time for all media in all countries.
"He will certainly bring out the very best in the talented teams in our Australian broadcasting, digital and publishing properties, and have the full support of our dynamic global network."
Murdoch controls two-thirds of Australia's newspapers and has a stake in broadcasters Sky News and Fox Sports.
His newspapers are an influential voice in Australia and have made clear whose side they are taking in September 7 national elections with his Sydney tabloid The Daily Telegraph this week running a front-page headline "Kick This Mob Out" under a picture of Rudd.
Murdoch has been a critic of Labor's plan for a multi-billion-dollar National Broadband Network and he is also fiercely against proposed media reforms, which were set to include a new public interest test for major mergers and stronger self-regulation requirements.