INM rejects call to sell newspapers

Independent News and Media (INM) tonight dismissed calls from major shareholder and billionaire telecoms mogul Denis O’Brien to sell off its London titles.

The communications tycoon proposed a raft of proposals to shake up the company, including disposing of the loss-making London-based Independent and Independent on Sunday.

Mr O’Brien, who has bought up more than a quarter of the business, suggested an annual €300,000 euro payment to ex-INM chief Anthony O’Reilly, in his his role as president emeritus, be scrapped.

INM hit back however, claiming no payments have been made to O’Reilly and that many of Mr O’Brien’s proposals were at odds with the company’s board.

“While the company is fully aware of Mr O’Brien’s personal views on a number of matters, as a result of press interviews conducted by him, it notes that a number of the resolutions proposed by Mr O’Brien for consideration are at variance with decisions previously taken by the board of INM,” a group statement said.

Billionaire Mr O’Brien had a hostile relationship with the O’Reilly camp as he aggressively built up his shareholding in the media group to secure the second largest stake before an apparent six month boardroom truce.

In a statement, Mr O’Brien called for an extraordinary general meeting of INM tabling eight resolutions, including sacking chairman Dr Brian Hillery and closing or selling-off the two London-based Independent titles.

He also wants a detailed schedule of all board member expenses since 2000.

INM said the closure of the publications would place a financial burden on the company at a time when it was trying to stem losses.

Last week, O’Reilly’s son, Gavin, who took over the reins at the company in May, said the titles would break even by 2011.

The company said: “An immediate closure of these titles would carry significant guaranteed contractual costs for INM PLC. The group’s focus has been on eliminating losses.”

Mr O’Brien also proposed INM take no further steps to dispose of its South African advertising business INM Outdoor, as well as closing the London executive office and relocating to Independent House in Dublin.

INM said the sale of the South African business was a key part of its plans to help reduce its costs and debts.

The group said it could not see how Mr O’Brien’s proposals would help with the company’s financial restructuring.

“It is difficult to see how Mr O’Brien’s actions assist in the resolution of the financial restructuring, which the board believes is in the best interests of the company and its stakeholders.”

The strained relations between O’Reilly, the group’s largest shareholder with a 28.5% stake, and Mr O’Brien appeared to ease when the former announced in March he was stepping down as chief executive.

Mr O’Brien, who has a 26% stake and three representatives on the INM board, wished the media boss well in his retirement thanking him for his contribution.

Gavin O’Reilly insisted the long-standing rivalry between the two business chiefs had ended.

INM has more than 200 newspaper and magazine titles across four continents but has suffered financial losses.

The group’s total revenue fell 22% to €608.8m in the first half of the year while operating profits dropped by more than a half.

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