Buckley returns in INM soap opera twist
O’Brien might not control INM in the classic sense but he is in a position now to exercise considerable influence at Ireland’s biggest newspaper publisher.
With a handful of radio licences under his control, including national stations Today FM and Newstalk, O’Brien’s influence over Irish media is considerable.
To date, it has been a case of nothing to see here, move along please, as far as the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland is concerned.
Communications minister Pat Rabbitte has hinted at curbing media ownership but Fine Gael appears less enthusiastic.
The Government has yet to do anything about the negative findings in the Moriarty tribunal, which concluded that former communications minister Michael Lowry, then a Fine Gael minister, had “secured” the second mobile licence for O’Brien and his Esat telecom group.
Buckley and his new board colleagues have a long list of to-do items at INM. These include deleveraging the company, reducing its overheads, finding a solution to its large pension deficit, devising a profitable online strategy, revitalising circulation, increasing advertising revenue and rebuilding its share price.
Will a clear-out of senior editorial ranks be another?
In an opinion piece published by The Irish Times in November 2011, O’Brien said his “punishment” for being a shareholder in INM for the previous four years had been a “prolonged, nasty, well-orchestrated campaign against me across a range of issues” by many of its papers.
In an interview with this newspaper in April, Buckley described as “appalling” the negative coverage of O’Brien in the Sunday Independent of April 1st, when multiple negative stories about the mobile phone entrepreneur were published by the newspaper.
“It’s very clearly part of a campaign against Denis O’Brien,” Buckley added.
The Sunday Independent has since run additional negative stories about O’Brien and it will be interesting to see if Buckley and O’Brien’s other representatives on the board seek editorial changes or to have some input into its coverage going forward.
In 2010 it emerged that Buckley had made representations to Gavin O’Reilly about journalist Sam Smyth’s role in the Irish Independent’s coverage of the Moriarty tribunal and its findings against O’Brien.
Buckley has always denied any interference.
Given the events of recent months, chief executive Vincent Crowley, who served for many years with the O’Reillys but who enjoys the support of O’Brien, has become a key player in protecting INM’s editorial independence.
Few would envy him this task.