Journalists Union appeals for INM staff to be supported

The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) has appealed for staff at INM to be supported to continue their work when High Court inspectors begin their investigations into the company’s affairs.

Journalists Union appeals for INM staff to be supported

By Caroline O’Doherty and Eamon Quinn

The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) has appealed for staff at INM to be supported to continue their work when High Court inspectors begin their investigations into the company’s affairs.

Irish NUJ secretary Seamus Dooley said: “We note the decision of Mr Justice Peter Kelly. This is an unsettling time for staff and we are glad this stage is over.

He continued:

The priority for my members is to be allowed to do their job. It is vital that while the investigation is underway, the company ensures that journalists are given the resources to carry out the core function of reporting.

“The position in which the company now finds itself has not arisen from the actions of staff.”

A statement from the INM board said it would consider Mr Justice Kelly’s ruling with a view to whatever action might be taken “in the interests of the company and its stakeholders”.

It said: “The board and the company’s management intend to remain focused on the business and ensuring that the group’s operations continue, so far as possible, to be conducted as normal.”

Director of Corporate Enforcement Ian Drennan welcomed the ruling and said it would allow his office’s own inquiries to be taken to a new level.

“Today’s judgment by the president of the High Court indicating his intention to grant the ODCE’s application means that the investigation will now be further progressed by court- appointed inspectors.

The inspectors are vested with significant statutory powers not available to the ODCE, including the powers of compellability and examination of relevant persons on oath.

Niamh Brennan, the Michael MacCormac professor of management at UCD and an authority on corporate governance, said the appointment of inspectors to a company in Ireland was “a very rare” event despite the powers being in law for some time.

The decision was also significant because INM was a stock market-listed company and the ruling had to take into consideration the interests of all investors in the company, and not just its largest stakeholders, including Denis O’Brien.

The ruling also raised questions for the regulator, the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI), she said, because it would now have to stand on the sidelines until the High Court inspectors report on their findings and only then would be able to weigh the evidence.

Ms Brennan said the BAI would have to ask itself about the ruling it made in recent years over ownership and control at INM.

The regulator raised no concerns over the company in its last review.

The BAI made no direct comment on yesterday’s ruling but said in a statement that it would be completing its next scheduled report on ownership and control of media businesses within the next few months and would present its findings to the communications minister at that point.

Ms Brennan also said that Justice Kelly was renowned for taking a firm line in commercial cases.

“This 76-page judgment is no exception,” she said.

She said his judgment was “quite strongly worded” and noted that INM commanded a key media position.

In assessing the public interest, he gave particular weight to accessing journalists’ communications by third parties which he considered to be particularly in the public interest.

Ms Brennan said his ruling brought attention to the question of how interrogating personal information had anything to do with cost reduction, as was claimed by INM.

“The appointment of inspectors to companies is a very rare event even though it has been in our law for some time,” Ms Brennan said.

The High Court application by the ODCE was also unusual because it had played out in public through reports in the media, she said.

INM shares have lost over a fifth of their value in the past year, valuing the media firm at around €120.1m.

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