Monday 19 February 2018

Tough questions for our own board

Business editor Shane Ross has 10 questions for the board of Independent News and Media

DO YOU still hold your shares in Independent News and Media PLC? Are you feeling a little bruised in the last year? Have they not lived up to their long-term record? Of course you still got a good dividend, but can we expect the shares to resume their upward path?

Well, you have a chance to find a few answers. Turn up at 11am for the AGM in Dublin's Shelbourne Hotel on Wednesday, June 5 and ask the executive chairman, Sir Anthony (Tony) O'Reilly, a few questions.

1.Independent has the largest board of directors of any company on the ISEQ, with its annual report listing no less than 25 directors who earn aggregate of ?568,000 in fees. What is the justification in having so many directors, and why are they all male?

2.Independent News and Media is naturally proud of its record; ?1,000 invested in 1973, with dividends reinvested, is worth over ?269,000 today. But what can we expect this year?

3.In the last year, there has been a significant level of expensive acquisitions in the regional newspaper sector by other media groups. Is the company concerned that it is apparently precluded in acquiring further titles? Is the group considering selling its regional titles at these heady prices, or does it seek to expand further?

4.Independent now owns 100 per cent of the London Independent, which made a loss in a difficult 2001. What is the commercial rationale of this investment and is the group fully committed to it? When can the shareholders expect it to turn a profit?

5.The group owns 29.9 per cent of the Sunday Tribune. What is the effect on the Independent of the recapitalisation of the Tribune's balance sheet? Many commentators would view it as a direct marketing rival to the Sunday Times, but does the group see it that way?

6.The well-publicised woes of the Irish Times must have significantly benefited the Irish Independent. What measures have been taken by the company to take advantage of its rival's difficulties? In what way did it benefit shareholders? What cost-cutting measures have been taken to protect shareholders from a similar fate?

7.With the successful move to its new production site at City West, the group has a large portfolio of under-utilised and valuable central Dublin properties. Does the company intend to unlock the value of its properties for the benefit of the shareholders?

8.As Eircom's new chairman, we realise that the noble knight is precluded from answering operational questions on Chorus (Independent's 50 per cent-owned cable company), but what are the group's plans for Chorus? Is Chorus for sale? What impact has the Sky/RTE agreement had on revenue at the cable company?

9.Why has the group restructured its New Zealand business into APN News and Media at this time? It has been widely speculated that the group wishes to make a bid for Fairfax and also speculated that the media laws in Australia will change in the near future. Would the chairman care to comment?

10.In its first full-year of ownership, how is the Belfast Telegraph doing? And in particular, as a major contract printer on this island, what other companies does the company print for?

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