Row over INM bid for Newstalk likely to overshadow EGM

Other board members not told of dispute between Pitt and Buckley for several months

 INM chief executive Robert Pitt and chairman Leslie Buckley: had a serious falling out over the price tag of a proposed bid for Newstalk. Photograph: Alan Betson

INM chief executive Robert Pitt and chairman Leslie Buckley: had a serious falling out over the price tag of a proposed bid for Newstalk. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

Some members of the board at Independent News and Media (INM) are understood to be uneasy at the public row that has engulfed the company over an attempt to sell Newstalk, owned by Denis O’Brien’s Communicorp, to INM, where Mr O’Brien is the main shareholder with a near 30 per cent stake.

As revealed last week in The Irish Times, chief executive Robert Pitt and chairman Leslie Buckley, a close ally of Mr O’Brien, had a serious falling out over the price tag of a proposed bid for Newstalk.

Mr Pitt commissioned a valuation for Newstalk that was far lower than Communicorp’s valuation of the asset, sparking tension with Mr Buckley.

It is understood that other members of the board were not informed about the falling out between the two men until relatively recently, despite the approach, which is believed to have been initiated by Communicorp, coming in the first half of the year.

Estimates of the gulf between the two valuations range from between €10 million up as far as €20 million, although the company would not comment on the valuation gap in recent days. It is understood that Communicorp may have valued Newstalk at up to twice what it was valued by INM.

INM declined to comment.

Pension scheme

The row between Mr Pitt and Mr Buckley is likely to be the subject of questions from shareholders at Monday’s extraordinary general meeting of INM in Dublin. The meeting, which will be attended by the two men and other INM directors, was called to ratify a share restructuring that could pave the way for future dividend payout.

The meeting is likely to result in questions about the company’s decision to wind up a now closed defined benefit pension scheme, which will hit deferred members hardest.

The scheme was restructured in 2013, which affected the future payouts for members by about 40 per cent. Deferred members are now facing enormous cuts to their already-eroded benefits.

The pensions change could face opposition in court, after the National Union of Journalists said last week it would consider all options, including legal action, to help protect the position of INM scheme members.