‘End of an era’ as INM shareholders back Mediahuis takeover

Denis O’Brien board nominee criticises Google and Facebook for ‘hoovering up’ ad revenue

 

Shareholders of Independent News and Media (INM) have overwhelmingly backed the €145.6 million takeover of the business by Belgian group Mediahuis, following a meeting on Wednesday morning at a Dublin hotel.

About 85 per cent of INM individual shareholders holding 94 per cent of its shares formally approved the scheme of arrangement that was put forward for the deal, according to an INM statement to the stock exchange.

Investors holding almost 96 per cent of INM’s shares also voted in favour of a series of company resolutions to allow the deal to proceed.

The proposed takeover still requires High Court sanction, which INM says will be sought “in the third quarter” of this year. Ultimately, the transaction will also require the approval of the Minister for Communications, Richard Bruton.

At the meeting in the Carlton hotel earlier, INM chairman Murdoch MacLennan said the takeover was “fair and reasonable” for INM shareholders. He rebuffed criticism from one shareholder who said the deal was “catastrophic”.

‘End of an era’

Michael Doorly, INM’s chief executive, said after the meeting it was “the end of an era” for the group as it nears the end of its time as a publicly listed company. He also said it was a “sad day” for some shareholders who would soon end their involvement with the business.

“But it’s also an exciting new chapter for the business... it’s a day of mixed emotions,” he said.

Kieran Mulvey, a director of INM and the board nominee of businessman Denis O’Brien, who was the biggest INM shareholder until Mediahuis began stakebuilding in May, said he could not discuss the transaction.

However, he spoke after the meeting to strongly criticise the impact on the media sector of “largely unregulated” web giants such as Facebook and Google, which he accused of unfairly “hoovering up” advertising revenue from traditional media publishers, by dint of their huge scale.

Mr Mulvey called on the Government to take action to address the issue, and to marshal action against multinational web publishers at a European level. When asked if had discussed his position with Mr O’Brien, he said the businessman has repeatedly argued internationally for tighter control of the web giants.

Mr Mulvey said major web companies have become so large that they are able to “scoop up the lifeblood” of other media organisations by dominating the advertising market.

He said the largest web companies should be investigated for alleged “monopoly practices”.

On the motivation of the Government to press for action against them, given the web giants’ level of investment here, Mr Mulvey said Ireland is a “small island in a bigger pond” and international action was required.

“This issue needs more concentrated thought,” he said. “We need a better approach, we need a more equitable approach. We need a more medium to long-term approach. We can’t have media outlets that are supranational and not subject to country regulation or not amenable to it.”