Another week, another act in the epic INM drama

Cantillon: Claims that editors’ computers were searched in 2015 adds to the intrigue

For a short period on Wednesday morning, after rumours emerged that Ryan Preston was leaving his role as chief financial officer, Independent News & Media's share price was down by 10 per cent.

In that short window, it had a market capitalisation of about €75 million, even though its reported cash balance was €89 million. Even for a troubled company in a moribund sector, it is astonishing that investors could value a debt-free business at a 15 per cent discount to the contents of its bank account.

It has been an eventful week at INM, even by its own Olympian standards of intrigue.

The day before news of Preston's exit in January emerged, INM's chief executive Michael Doorly hosted a staff meeting over their concerns about the handling of journalists' private communications.

Doorly told staff of his "deep concern" that INM would allow searches of people's emails

This followed a Sunday Business Post story that said former chief executive Robert Pitt, another corporate governance whistleblower who has departed the parish, had allowed a targeted search of certain editors' computers in 2015 in order to ascertain the source of an unauthorised leak of a company email to another publication.

Doorly promised that he would ask High Court inspectors who were appointed earlier this year to investigate a suspected 2014 data breach, as well as other allegations made by Pitt and Preston, to widen their terms of reference to encompass the 2015 incident. He told staff of his “deep concern” that INM would allow searches of people’s emails.

But, as we now know from High Court documents filed during the State’s inspection application, he appeared less concerned about INM searching emails in 2014. As company secretary back then, he was in the loop on efforts to discreetly trawl INM accounts, apparently for evidence of a legal contract.

“Do you have everything you need?” he asked one of his superiors in 2014 emails, which were filed in court as part of the investigation into INM.

It is also bizarre that INM is apparently now determined to have the inspectors’ terms of reference widened. It spent half of 2018 pursuing a judicial review to get the very same inspection aborted, or its terms narrowed.