SYDNEY, Nov 9, 2011 (AFP) - Rupert Murdoch said Wednesday he will take over as chairman of his Australian arm News Limited with current chairman and chief executive John Hartigan stepping down in a major shake-up at the top.
Murdoch, 80, will replace Hartigan in the role with Kim Williams, currently head of Foxtel, a News Corp joint venture that is Australia's largest pay television company, taking on the chief executive duties.
Williams' job at Foxtel goes to Richard Freudenstein, the chief executive of The Australian newspaper.
Hartigan has been with the company for 41 years and no reason was given for his departure, although he turns 64 next week.
In a memo to staff, seen by AFP, Hartigan said it had been "an unbelievable journey".
"In Rupert Murdoch, I have been fortunate to work for a proprietor who cares passionately about the value of journalism and the vital role free press plays in a democracy," he said.
"There is a great spirit at News. A real conviction about what we do and enormous integrity in the way we do it. I will miss it immensely.
"But it is time to hand over to the next generation."
Murdoch paid tribute to his long-time employee.
"John's decision ends a distinguished 41-year career with News in which he has given us exemplary service and incredible leadership," Murdoch, who is currently in Australia, said in a statement.
"John has been an outstanding reporter, an editor with few peers and an inspiring executive. Few people have contributed as much as John to the quality of journalism in Australia."
Hartigan joined the company in Sydney in 1970 as a reporter on The Daily Mirror, later to become The Daily Telegraph, before working on The Sun in London and the New York Post.
After returning to Australia, he became editor of Queensland’s Sunday Sun before working his way up the ladder to become News Limited's chief executive in 2000.
While Murdoch's Australian arm was not linked to the phone hacking scandal in Britain that rattled his empire, Hartigan came under pressure from the Australian government, which said the company faced some "hard questions".
In response, News Limited launched a review of all payments made over the past three years to ensure they were legitimate.
The government nevertheless launched an independent inquiry into the nation's print media, something Hartigan called "politically motivated".
Williams, who takes over on December 5, acknowledged that there were "people in the government with whom we appear to have a poor relationship".
"Any media organisation that is doing its job will from time to time have very hostile reactions from those that it covers and scrutinises," he told Sky News, partially-owned by Murdoch.
Williams would not be drawn on why Murdoch was taking the chairman's role.
"I welcome having Rupert Murdoch as the chairman, he's clearly an executive and leader of unparalleled experience in modern media delivery," he said.
"He's at the heart of all of News Corp's activity and I certainly will be seeking counsel from him in relation to the directions of the company."
Murdoch controls 70 percent of Australia's newspapers, has a stake in broadcasters Sky News and Fox Sports, and is angling to run the Australia Network, the international public TV channel.