JAMES MURDOCH had been seen as the undisputed heir to his father's media empire, until the phone-hacking scandal erupted. But as he faces the prospect of his evidence to the British Parliament being called into question by former colleagues on Tuesday, there are growing doubts coming from inside his family about his suitability for the top position at News Corporation.
The rift stems from what insiders call ''a big family row'' at the height of the crisis in July, the week after News of the World closed. Members of the Murdoch clan descended on the company's headquarters in London to work out their battle plan but, within days, Elisabeth Murdoch, James's sister, had walked out, because, in the words of one observer, ''she had had enough of it all''.
Elisabeth was not in London to support Rupert or James when they appeared before MPs the following week. This was in marked contrast to her other brother, Lachlan. He arrived midweek and spent most of his time in Britain assisting his father.
While outsiders see News Corp as a tight-knit, monolithic organisation, those close to the family describe a company riven by internal rows and disputes over how to handle the hacking crisis.
The role and importance of Rebekah Brooks, News International's former chief executive and editor of News of the World when the phone of the teenage murder victim Milly Dowler was hacked, was also a source of tension. She was close to Rupert, and James also chose to support her.
Although Elisabeth has denied saying in a private conversation in New York in July that Mrs Brooks and her brother had ''f---ed the company'', it is a sentiment that allies say she agrees with.
However, Elisabeth's disenchantment does not amount to her own bid for power at the family business. Friends say she is neither inclined nor equipped to run the business.
It was James who had emerged as the obvious successor after Rupert parachuted him in to run the BSkyB satellite broadcaster in 2003.
However, that ascent is no longer guaranteed. On Tuesday, Colin Myler, a former News of the World editor, and Tom Crone, the newspaper's former chief lawyer, will give evidence to the British Parliament's culture, media and sport select committee.
Mr Myler and Mr Crone have already said that at a meeting in 2008 they told James of the existence of a critical email indicating that phone hacking at News of the World was more widespread than a single rogue reporter. James then reached a £700,000 ($1 million) settlement with Gordon Taylor, the head of the Professional Footballers' Association, who had sued over phone hacking.
James told Parliament in July that he was never shown or told about the email.
James has cancelled a trip to Asia so he can monitor Mr Myler and Mr Crone giving evidence. He will not be the only Murdoch watching closely.
Brisbane Times, by Dan Sabbagh