LONDON – James Murdoch, his credibility diminished and his future at the helm of his father’s media empire in doubt, stepped down Wednesday as executive chairman of News International, the troubled British newspaper subsidiary embroiled in a deepening phone hacking scandal.

The move – which the company cast as allowing Rupert Murdoch’s younger son to focus on News Corp.’s international TV holdings – plucks the one-time heir apparent out of the cross-hairs of the crisis that has spurred judicial and police inquiries and claimed the careers of several top executives.

“No one is surprised at this development,” said Douglas McCabe, a media analyst at Enders Analysis. “The view is that James’ association with News International was becoming problematic and this is an attempt to move him away from it.”

The 39-year-old James will remain deputy chief operating officer of News Corp., and experts said removing him from the firestorm over News International doesn’t just help with damage control. It also leaves the embattled executive in a key position at the company and places him back into the role of TV executive, where he has shone in the past.