One can only wonder if the threatened closure of the London Independent newspapers, is a ruse to deflect attention away from a scandal involving non-executive director Brian Mulroney? Readers will remember that Independent, which publishes South Africa’s Star and Cape Argus, is in the process of being restructured amidst a controversy which refuses to go away.
Denis O’Brien, the telecoms billionaire who most recently bailed out the group has introduced a resolution calling on shareholders to stop a €100,000 annual payment to a company owned by Mulroney. Mulroney is under investigation by the Canadian police because of a bribery and kickbacks scandal involving German arms-dealer Karlheinz Schrieber.
O’Brien has also called on shareholders to cancel a €300,000 annual payment to former chief executive Sir Anthony O’Reilly in respect of his position as president emeritus of the firm. The current board under Hillary says O’Reilly is not entitled under contract to such a payment, but will argue that the resolution is moot.
The company’s board, on which O’Brien has minority representation, is also likely to refuse to put to the AGM O’Brien’s call for a detailed schedule of all board member expenses since the start of 2000 to be prepared by a firm of independent accountants and circulated to all shareholders.
There was no comment from O’Brien, the marauding minority shareholder who is apparently also seeking at the AGM to remove company chairman Brian Hillary and to replace senior independent director Baroness Margaret Jay, a tory conservative. One can only hope shareholders will come to their senses and realise the O’Reilly dynasty is over and the only way to save the company is to move on with doing business, which is about printing newspapers, not investing in Wedgewood crystal, 18 Century Mansions and chandeliers.
IT’S amazing what difference a week can make in the lives of today’s corporate executives. Take the changing fortune of deposed INM board member Ivan “The Terrible” Fallon, or the fate of media tycoon, Tony O’Reilly, replaced by son Gavin?
After the INM night of the long knives, with one other O’Reilly clan member already tipped to walk the plank, Gavin appears to be the only O’Reilly member with any staying power on the slimmed down board, and one could be forgiven for enjoying a bit of schadenfreude as this palace putsch plays itself out.
The move, labelled as a form of weightwatchers for executives in the media world, will apparently address “trenchant attacks” by dissident shareholder and telecoms billionaire Denis O’Brien who last year commissioned a report which claimed the INM board had too many members allied to O’Reilly.
Tony O’Reilly, a controversial figure has been embroiled in a bitter war of words with O’Brien, said he will retire as chief executive and as a director of the board on 7 May – his 73rd birthday
O’Reilly is still the largest individual shareholder in INM after the Bank of Ireland, with 28.5%, and has been the strategic driving force behind the company for the past 36 years.
His son Gavin, who is currently chief operating officer, will maintain his reign on power, by becoming chief executive-designate with immediate effect and will thus succeed his father in May.
O’Reilly is apparently eager to bury the hatchet with arch-rival O’Brien who will be given three seats on a slimmed down board of directors.
However, such moves have not quelled criticism of the inclusion of Canadian Brian Mulroney, a long-time O’Reilly supporter at the centre of a storm surrounding a bribery and corruption scandal, who is the subject of an international inquiry into financial dealings whilst in office, where he was once the progressive conservative party Prime Minister before stepping down. Mulroney is also accused of taking bribes from German arms-dealer Karlheinz Schrieber, and more recently, of encouraging sponsor-representation at board-room level in INM’s many overseas operations.
South African media analysts have entertained the public with rumours that INM could be selling off its local operation, but there is very little chance that O’Brian will be giving up his stake in the market. Rather, we are likely to see a complete meltdown before anything happens as the group fails to heed warnings by the public to come clean on the Mulroney scandal.
SOUTH AFRICA’S news media knows absolutely nothing about the bribery and corruption scandal involving Brian Mulroney and Karlheinz Schrieber. The shenanigans of the Independent News and Media director has dominated overseas headlines and has been part of a three year investigation on Fifth Estate, Canada’s version of Third Degree – but local news media, many of whom are employed by Mulroney, can’t be bothered to familiarise themselves with the facts, and see the subject as taboo.
“I can’t comment, I’m uncomfortable with this, there are some things I don’t want to know” said Franz Anton Kruger of the Wits School of Journalism.
Patrick Conroy of eTV news express complete cluelessness: “I don’t know!” When asked if he didn’t know because he was not party to the facts or didn’t know because he didn’t want to know the truth, he was even more vague, “No comment”, he blurted before putting down the phone. Several print media journos, all expressed utter ignorance of the case and it would appear local media is in the process of denying the inevitable – an INM head has been caught red-handed taking kickbacks from business and the arms industry.
Mulroney is the disgraced former progressive conservative party Canadian PM, now the subject of a public inquiry held before Canada’s privy council. The Oliphant Commission was appointed late last year and is about to embark on a series of public hearings that look set to rock international media, even though its current terms of reference are also the subject of serious debate. According to the Canadian Press, the price tag for the inquiry will set Canadian taxpayers back by $ 14 Million.
Mulroney is a non-executive director of Independent PLC the parent company of Independent News and Media PTY LTD which prints such titles as Cape Times, Star and Argus and owns some 137 newspapers worldwide. He also sits on the local international advisory board which sets newsroom policy for the media group and recently attended a function of the World Association of Newspapers at Cape Town castle where he could be seen hobknobbing with industry bigwigs and corporate tycoons who have literally bought the local press, lock stock and barrel, turning SA media into unaccountable, personal fiefdoms in the process.
I asked Kruger, the author of a book on Media Ethics, whether or not he knew of any colleagues taking bribes, or if he had received any cash in exchange for favours from people like Karl-Heinz Schrieber?
“I really don’t know, I can’t comment” said Kruger
When will South Africa’s media know anything? Probably never, judging by the lack of concern for what is surely the hottest corruption scandal involving print media this century.