Lachlan Murdoch (33) has resigned his role as deputy chief operating officer at News Corporation, a move tantamount in media circles to the detonation of an H-bomb in the San Andreas Fault.

Murdoch junior - universally seen as heir apparent to the family fiefdom - said Friday he intends to quit New York and return to Australia to spend more time with his family. His wife, former model Sarah O'Hare, is believed to prefer living in Sydney.

Rupert Murdoch, now in his seventy-fifth year, is reportedly distraught at Lachlan's exit, declaring publicly that he is "particularly saddened" at the shock decision. Lachlan reciprocated in a display of familial fidelity. "I would like especially to thank my father for all he has taught me in business and in life," he said.

Few believe the younger Murdoch son, James (32), currently running NewsCorp's UK satellite broadcaster BSkyB, will assume the heir apparent's mantle. The overnight hot favourite is now Peter Chernin (54), longtime Murdoch loyalist and NewsCorp president and chief operating officer.

There was little love lost between Chernin and Lachlan, reports the Los Angeles Times. Quoting "sources", the newspaper relates that Lachlan's stint in Los Angeles, training under Chernin, was cut short because of their sour relationship.

And according to today's Sydney Morning Herald, early last week Rupert Murdoch, sided with Chernin over Lachlan in a dispute over unspecified differences.

While Lachlan's departure may be an emotional family issue, tears on Wall Street are conspicuous by their absence. "Investors had been concerned by the issue of nepotism at NewsCorp," says Richard Greenfield, analyst at Fulcrum. "Operationally, Lachlan's departure will not change much. But it is clear that the most likely successor to Rupert Murdoch is now Peter Chernin."

Elisabeth Murdoch, elder sister of Lachlan and James, was a director at BSkyB before she quit in 2000 to follow her own career. Few believe she is likely to be tempted back into the acrimonious fold of the family business.

Data sourced from multiple origins; additional content by WARC staff