Second INM whistleblower made disclosure over Newstalk row

Chief executive not the only INM executive to raise concerns over corporate governance

Independent News & Media chief executive Robert Pitt and chairman Leslie Buckley. Photograph: Alan Betson

Independent News & Media chief executive Robert Pitt and chairman Leslie Buckley. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

It is understood that a second senior employee of Independent News & Media (INM) has made a protected disclosure under whistleblower legislation about standards of corporate governance at the State’s biggest newspaper publisher.

The second whistleblower’s disclosure comes in addition to the complaint made by Robert Pitt, INM’s chief executive, who made a protected disclosure recently to the State’s corporate watchdog, the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE).

The two whistleblower complaints concern a bitter row late last year between Leslie Buckley, INM’s chairman, and Mr Pitt over how much to bid for Denis O’Brien’s Newstalk radio station last year.

Mr O’Brien is also the largest shareholder at INM, with a stake of just below 30 per cent. Mr Buckley is one of Mr O’Brien’s representatives on the board of INM and is considered to be the billionaire’s closest business associate.

Valuation

It is understood Mr Pitt did not want to meet the price being sought for Newstalk by Mr O’Brien’s radio group, Communicorp. The chief executive commissioned a valuation from Davy Corporate Finance that was far lower.

Following the row, the proposed INM bid for Newstalk did not proceed.

The existence of the price-tag bust-up involving Mr Buckley and the company’s top management was confirmed to investors by INM at the end of November, following detailed queries on the matter from The Irish Times.

INM said at the time that a board subcommittee had investigated the row and had found “no issues of concern”.

However, it admitted on Tuesday that the matter had since escalated. INM’s board appointed senior counsel in December to conduct an independent review of the row, while the ODCE subsequently demanded it produce certain records on foot of the protected disclosures.

The emergence of a second whistleblower complaint will ratchet up the public pressure on the directors of INM to deal with the concerns around corporate governance that overshadowed its financial results this week.

Mr Buckley did not comment when The Irish Times asked for a statement from him on INM’s corporate governance and the various inquiries under way into the circumstances surrounding the Newstalk price row.

INM also would not comment on Friday in relation to the second protected disclosure. On Tuesday, when news emerged of the ODCE intervention, INM said it was complying with the watchdog’s directions, which “does not involve any conclusion that there has been a breach of law by the company or its officers”.