No action over O'Brien interests
THE BROADCASTING Authority of Ireland has decided not to take any immediate action in relation to the media interests of Denis O’Brien. However, a spokesman said further changes to the board of Independent News Media, in which Mr O’Brien holds a 29.9 per cent share, may prompt the authority to re-examine the businessman’s holdings in future.
After a meeting to discuss the matter on Monday, the members of the authority, chaired by Bob Collins, concluded it was “not obliged” to consider whether Mr O’Brien’s interests represented “an undue amount of communications media”. It said INM’s single largest shareholder did not control the media group and his holdings only represented a “substantial interest” in the company.
Mr O’Brien has increased his shareholding in INM this year from 22 per cent to a point just below the 30 per cent level, where he would be obliged to make an outright bid for the company.
In the wake of the departure of former chief executive Gavin O’Reilly, Mr O’Brien had also voted against the re-election of two directors, former chairman James Osborne and former financial director Donal Buggy.
The events leading up to and including the company’s June agm prompted the authority to write to Mr O’Brien’s radio group, Communicorp, asking it to set out its position.
The authority is statutorily obliged to assess “the desirability of allowing any person, or group of persons, to have control of, or substantial interests in, an undue amount of communications media”.
Communicorp controls Today FM, Newstalk, Spin 103.8 and 98FM, and has a substantial interest in Spin South West and Phantom FM.
“Substantial interest” is defined has having “sufficient proprietary, financial and voting strength” in a company “to be able to influence directly or indirectly to an appreciable extent the strategic direction or policy” of the company.
In its finding that Mr O’Brien did not control INM, the authority noted he had not yet reached the 30 per cent shareholding threshold and did not possess 50 per cent of the voting rights exercisable at meetings of INM shareholders. It acknowledged, however, that a special resolution could not be carried at a meeting of shareholders if Mr O’Brien decides to vote against it.
“In its deliberations, the authority considered it noteworthy that Mr O’Brien’s interest in INM has been enhanced, that the situation regarding the company is fluid and that it is intended that further appointments be made to its board,” it said yesterday.