Independent News and& Media’s chief executive Vincent Crowley has said that the election of Leslie Buckley as group chairman will not compromise editorial control and content at its titles which include the Irish Independent, the Sunday Independent and the Evening Herald.
Mr Buckley — a close associate of INM’s largest shareholder, Denis O’Brien — returned to the top table at INM yesterday, 14 months after being sensationally voted off the board at the group’s 2011 AGM.
His appointment as chairman followed a meeting of the group’s new board yesterday afternoon. Earlier in the day, Mr Buckley was formally re-elected to the board at an EGM. That shareholders’ meeting also saw former KPMG managing partner, Jerome Kennedy; Belfast Harbour Commissioners chairman, Len O’Hagan and Triona Mullane, former chief technology officer with international digital content services provider, NewBay, added to INM’s board; boosting its membership to ten.
Out of just over 310.6m votes cast for him, Mr Buckley received nearly 297.8m approvals and nearly 3.8m non-approvals. Mr Kennedy — seen as Mr Buckley’s only real rival for the chairmanship — received nearly 301m votes in favour of his appointment to the board, while only 612,240 shareholder votes went against him.
Speaking after yesterday morning’s EGM, Mr Crowley said the vote gives INM “a board with a range of requisite skills and a unity of purpose”.
He was also pressed, by members of the media, on a number of other issues — including INM’s ongoing cost-cutting measures and circulation declines.
On the latter, Mr Crowley said he sees the latest disappointing circulation figures as being a reflection of the economy, rather than a real decline for the newspaper industry.
He said INM was still seeing good sales of its titles on big news days, but that many people — in the current economic climate — do not buy a newspaper every day.
On the cost-cutting issue, he said the sale of INM’s South African publishing assets is an ongoing process, but that progress has been slow on tackling the group’s pension deficit. INM has a pension deficit of €148m and net debt of nearly €428m. Mr Crowley hinted that further updates would be made on Friday, when INM issues its interim financial results.
Yesterday’s EGM only featured one meaningful contribution from the floor; namely former Irish Independent political editor Chris Glennon, questioning support for Jerome Kennedy’s inclusion on the board; given his previous involvement with Bank of Ireland’s audit and risk committees.
In reply, INM director Frank Murray — who chaired the meeting — said the board views Mr Kennedy “as part of the solution to the banking problem, not part of the problem”.
Mr Murray said Mr Kennedy “played a significant role” in assisting Bank of Ireland in facing its financial and strategic challenges; saying this experience will be of help to INM.
Mr Kennedy has been appointed senior independent director and will chair the group’s audit committee. INM’s remuneration committee will be headed by Len O’Hagan, with Mr Murray heading its nomination and corporate governance committee.
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