TELECOM billionaire Denis O’Brien will try to unseat the chairman of Independent News & Media at a showdown general meeting of the company’s shareholders on November 3.
Mr O’Brien, INM’s second largest individual shareholder with a near 26% stake, is in a bitter battle with the O’Reilly clan, which owns 29% of the company, for control of Ireland’s largest private media company.
INM has been struggling since May to pay off €200 million in debts to bondholders . And just as chief executive Gavin O’Reilly seems to have figured out a solution to the impasse, Mr O’Brien unveils a rival plan which could see him take control of the company from the O’Reillys and come to a settlement with the bondholders.
The O’Reilly’s want to sell-off the company’s outdoor advertising business in South Africa but Mr O’Brien wants this retained and is demanding INM’s British national titles – The Independent and The Independent on Sunday – be sold or closed, a move opposed by the company’s biggest shareholders.
The public struggle has taken yet another twist with the board of INM acceding to a request from Mr O’Brien for an extraordinary general meeting (EGM) on November 3. INM will ask investors to vote on two of the eight O’Brien resolutions. A third motion regarding INM Outdoor will be the subject of a separate, dedicated EGM, the company said.
“The remaining proposed resolutions are not being put forward on the basis that, even if approved, these resolutions would have no legal effect,” INM said.
The two O’Brien motions that will be voted on are:
- That Dr Brian J Hillery is removed from his office as the chairman of the company.
- That a new senior independent director be appointed with immediate effect.
The second motion would have the effect of replacing the current senior independent director, the Labour peer and former leader of the House of Lords, Baroness Jay of Paddington. INM, in a circular to shareholders, asked investors to vote against some proposals put forward by its second-biggest shareholder, saying they may damage its trading prospects.
A spokesman for Mr O’Brien said that it is too early to know if Mr O’Brien will attend the EGM in person but Mr O’Brien did agree to debate the future of INM on RTÉ television with Gavin O’Reilly this week. However, Mr O’Reilly refused, saying he was as an executive director of the company, unlike Mr O’Brien, constrained in what he could say while negotiations with bondholders were in progress.
The three directors nominated to the INM board by Mr O’Brien – Paul Connolly, Leslie Buckley and Lucy Gaffney – want investors to support Mr O’Brien’s resolutions. Mr O’Brien may reveal more on his strategy for his INM investment when he is keynote speaker on October 2 next at the at the NUI Galway/Connacht Tribune centenary conference – Journalism of the Future: The Changes and Challenges.
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