Embattled media tycoon Rupert Murdoch has been considering turning over the reins of his News Corp. empire for more than a year, The Wall Street Journal has reported.
The publication - one of Murdoch's own - has made the claim amid reports by other news networks that Murdoch was "considering" stepping down as CEO.
"Even before the scandal erupted in recent weeks, the elder Murdoch had considered stepping down as CEO in favor of chief operating officer Chase Carey, according to people familiar with the situation," the Journal reported, adding that under that scenario, Murdoch would remain as executive chairman.
The switch had been under consideration for more than a year, said the Journal, which quoted a person familiar with the situation.
"Even if Mr. Murdoch decides to make this change, he wouldn't do it right now, the person said.
"Instead it would likely happen in several months' time, when presumably the furor had died down," the Journal said, quoting its source.
A switch now, however, even if long intended, would have enormous symbolic significance, the newspaper added.
Australian and American, Murdoch, 80, one of the most powerful press magnates in the world, will appear before Britain's cross-party Culture, Media and Sport Committee tomorrow accompanied by son James, 38 and protege, Rebekah Brooks, 43, the "queen of the tabloids."
The Murdoch-owned News of the World, a now shuttered weekly tabloid, is accused of having hacked since 2000 into the voice mails of some 4,000 people, including politicians, celebrities as well as crime victims.
Bad credit rating
Reports of Murdoch's possible drop from the top of his own company are the latest twist in the phone hack scandal today, which is putting News Corp. under enormous pressure.
Earlier, ratings agency Standard and Poor's warned it could cut the company's credit rating.
S&P placed News Corp.'s BBB+ rating on a negative watch citing "increased business and reputation risks" from investigations into the scandal.
However, shares in Murdoch's News Corp. gained more than three percent in early Australian trade today despite the S&P warning.
At 10.15 am (1215 NZT), the stock was trading up 3.32 percent at Aus$14.63, following a more than four percent sell-off on Monday, a slump matched on US markets.
Hackers target Murdoch's British papers' websites
News Corp's British publications have been targeted by hackers today.
Lulz Security hacker group attacked the website of the Sun newspaper, replacing the online version with a fake story pronouncing the mogul's death.
The tabloid quickly took down reports that the 80-year-old had been found dead in his garden after ingesting palladium but visitors to the site were then redirected to LulzSec's Twitter feed, which celebrated the high-profile attack.
The group also claimed to have hacked all webpages of the phone-hack scandal-hit News International, the Sun's parent company, and the webpage of sister paper The Times was also inaccessible.
"We have owned Sun/News of the World - that story is simply phase 1 - expect the lulz to flow in coming days," a message from the group warned.
Another message taunted "We have joy we have fun, we have messed up Murdoch's Sun".
- Herald Online staff and AFP