LATEST: Leslie Buckley re-elected INM chairman; CEO abstains from vote

LATEST: Leslie Buckley re-elected INM chairman; CEO abstains from vote
INM CEO and chairman Robert Pitt and Leslie Buckley (left to right). Picture: RollingNews.ie

Update 1pm: The CEO of Independent News and Media has abstained from voting for the re-election of Chairman Leslie Buckley.

It follows a disagreement between both men over the possible purchase price of Newstalk.

Chief Executive Robert Pitt made a protected disclosure under whistleblower legislation after they both got different valuations of the radio station, with the Chairman’s substantially higher.

Shareholder Peter Gallagher brought a dose of levity to the Annual General Meeting of Independent News and Media, at a time when certain relationships on the board are strained.

"Would you think of going out and hiring a clown to become a director? We need happiness to sell the newspapers," he said.

Chief Executive Robert Pitt has been in dispute with Chairman Leslie Buckley over valuations each man got for the possible purchase of Newstalk, which is owned by Denis O’Brien, a majority shareholder in INM.

The matter was also referred to the Office of the Director of Corproate Enforcement, who are investigating.

At the AGM, Robert Pitt abstained from voting for Mr Buckley, who was nonetheless re-elected.

At the close of the meeting, both men declined to comment.

Earlier: Independent News and Media (INM) has said its total revenue of €148.1m was down by 8.4% for the first six months of the year, compared with the same period last year.

The publisher said the fall in revenues was mainly down to a decline in distribution revenues of 9% and a decline in total advertising revenues of 7.8%. Print advertising revenue was down 10.9%, which was partially offset by a (slower-than-forecast) growth of 6.3% in digital advertising.

Circulation revenues declined by 7.5%.

The group's annual general meeting takes place today, with group CEO Robert Pitt indicating he will not be supporting all votes at the meeting. It is a very unusual move, against the backdrop of significant boardroom tensions.

INM publishes the Irish Independent, the Sunday Independent, the Sunday World and the Herald, as well as a number of regional titles.

In a statement this morning, the group says advertising growth has come primarily from programmatic advertising and INM's classified businesses. It said digital advertising yield continues to be impacted by growth in mobile traffic (where margins are lower) and the move away from direct transactional selling.

Profit before tax decreased by 19.5% to €14.9m. This was offset to an extent by cost-saving plans.

The company said its costs were added to by recent awards in libel cases, particularly those relating to historic Sunday World cases. This, added to other costs including meeting the requirements of the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE), impacting operating costs by about €2.5m in the first six months of the year.

Pre-distribution operating costs, excluding the libel and legal costs above, decreased by €6.7m (-7.2%) due to cost-saving plans that have been put in place throughout the group to mitigate the forecast revenue declines.

Underlying operating profit, excluding the group's libel and legal costs, decreased by 2.8%.

INM chairman Leslie Buckley said: "The operating environment in the media industry remains challenging. We believe that issues need to be addressed, such as consolidation in the industry, the high level of libel awards and the need for traditional publishers to pursue stronger rights to demand payment for the use of their content from digital giants Google and Facebook.

"I am pleased to report that during the period under review the group and the trustees of two of INM's Republic of Ireland defined benefit pension schemes reached agreement to commence the wind-up of the schemes."

He said the group's balance sheet has been further strengthened "in spite of numerous challenges", and thanked employees.

The group's CEO Robert Pitt said: "The continued challenging trading conditions from the decline in circulation and publishing advertising have been magnified by the impact of a very punitive defamation regime and legal costs. Whilst digital revenues have grown, the growth is at a lower rate than previously envisaged."

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