By Eamon Quinn
The new chairman at Independent News and Media (INM) has extended its campaign to fight off the State’s corporate watchdog, telling shareholders that installing inspectors would do more harm than good to the country’s largest media firm.
Speaking to reporters after its annual meeting, Murdoch MacLennan said he would not disclose the costs so far incurred in dealing with the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE) and the Data Protection Commissioner, or how much of the more than €91m in cash held by INM would be eaten up to meet the costs incurred in the inquiries.
INM had previously said that the costs could be “material”. Yesterday Mr MacLennan insisted unspecified plans for acquisitions or forging links hadn’t been put on hold and that the company was “looking forward” to making investments or partnerships with other companies.
INM has mounted a legal challenge to the court application by the ODCE to appoint inspectors following claims, including those made by former INM chief executive Robert Pitt, who used whistleblowing legislation to make a protective disclosure.
The ODCE has based its application on allegations Mr Pitt was put under pressure in a discarded plan to buy broadcaster Newstalk.
The Data Protection Commissioner is also investigating a 2014 data breach of people, including journalists, connected with INM.
It is alleged the bill for any work in the search of the information on the computers was subsequently paid for by an Isle of Man-based company, Blaydon, which is linked to Denis O’Brien, the largest shareholder in INM.
Asked whether he had been contacted by external shareholders, Mr MacLennan yesterday said some shareholders had “expressed their concerns” but were “very satisfied” about the way the company was going about managing its business affairs.
He said he couldn’t comment because of the legal process on whether he had made any contact with its largest shareholder, Mr O’Brien.
Mr MacLennan was appointed to the INM board in October and named chairman in March. He was previously deputy chairman at the Telegraph Group in the UK.
The independent representatives on the board were looking after all the shareholders of the company, said Mr MacLennan.
He said the appointment of inspectors was not in the interests of the company, which had in 14 instances co-operated with the ODCE.
It was also separately co-operating with the Data Commissioner.
If there was wrongdoing in the past, it had been done without the knowledge of the board, said Mr MacLennan, adding that if inspectors were appointed, it would be time consuming for management, who would prefer to be focusing on the future of the business.
Earlier, he told shareholders that despite this year’s severe weather disruption, INM was trading in line with market expectations and was so far hitting its targets over costs.
Chief executive Michael Doorly said the company’s review was delivering, including helping “build and diversify” its distribution business, Newspread.
INM shares rose 1% yesterday but have lost about 26% of value from a year ago.
It is valued at €131.7m, despite its large cash holdings.