Tuesday 20 August 2019

Peaceful departure follows a string of board and court fights

INM CEO Michael Doorly and chairman Leslie Buckley. Photos: Steve Humphreys
INM CEO Michael Doorly and chairman Leslie Buckley. Photos: Steve Humphreys
Dearbhail McDonald

Dearbhail McDonald

COMPARED to his tempestuous time at the helm of Independent News & Media, the departure of chairman Leslie Buckley was a tranquil affair.

Shareholders who turn up at the AGMs and EGMs of the country's largest media group are rarely let down if colourful boardroom battles and combustive disputes are their thing. Partly because of a status red weather warning, and partly because of the sheer weight of advance proxy votes, only a handful of shareholders turned up yesterday for Mr Buckley's INM swansong - an EGM convened to add four new directors to the company's board.

As Mr Buckley acknowledged in his final address, INM has been responsible for more than its fair of media exclusives.

For months, INM made the headlines for many reasons, primarily relating to a now-resolved pensions row and a major dispute between INM's former CEO Robert Pitt and Mr Buckley, a long-term associate of businessman Denis O'Brien, who owns 29.88pc of INM.

A dispute over the price to be paid by INM if it acquired radio station Newstalk - wholly owned by Mr O'Brien's Communicorp Group - led to Mr Pitt making a protected disclosure to the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE), Ireland's company law enforcement watchdog.

Mr Pitt resigned last October just over three years after being appointed CEO and less than two years after he joined the INM board. But his departure was probably inevitable following a public showdown in August 2016, when - as CEO - he failed to support the re-election of Mr Buckley in a show of hands at the company's AGM.

Mr Buckley was back in the news last month when the High Court ruled he was entitled to privilege over 10 of 11 documents concerning the preparation of his response to the ODCE's investigation of the whistleblower complaint.

The High Court has heard that since the ODCE began investigating the INM-Newstalk aborted deal, its inquiry has widened to take in the handling of a "potential personal data breach" at the company.

In his final act as chairman, Mr Buckley paid tribute to journalists who had broken stories about INM, saying he understood the value of a good exclusive and the questioning that goes with it.

"It certainly hasn't been dull," said Mr Buckley who leaves behind a company with a strong balance sheet and major strategic decisions to make about its next chapter.

Irish Independent

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