Independent News installs O'Brien nominee to APN board

BUSINESSDESK: Irish media group Independent News & Media has appointed Paul Connolly to the board of Australasian print and radio group APN News & Media.

Mr Connolly, an ally of Irish billionaire Denis O'Brien, who is now Independent News' biggest shareholder, has been appointed a non-executive director of APN. Independent News is APN's biggest shareholder with almost 30%.

Mr Connolly is the chairman of Dublin-based boutique financial advisory business Connolly Capital and sits on the board of Mr O'Brien's telecommunications company Digicel.

"We are delighted Paul is joining the Board," APN chairman Peter Hunt says. "He brings extensive experience in the media and communication sectors."

The appointment comes as APN faces growing scrutiny over its future, with a plunging share price valuing it at just $A241.5 million and question marks over whether it will sell its New Zealand assets, including the New Zealand Herald newspaper and Radio Network.

The shares rose 1.4% to 37 Australian cents yesterday and have plunged 49% this year.

APN shareholder Allan Gray Australia has also floated the possibility of the firm, which has a strong presence in Australian regional newspapers, being a takeover target by Fairfax Media.

Allan Gray also holds a substantial shareholding in Fairfax and has been a supporter of mining magnate Gina Rinehart's attempts to exert more control on the media group.

The appointment comes as Independent News faces legal action from director of corporate affairs Karl Brophy, who is trying to block his dismissal. He claims his ousting was because Mr O'Brien perceived him to be too close to former chief executive Gavin O'Reilly, RTE News reports.

Mr Connolly was installed on to Independent News' board in 2009, when Mr O'Brien took steps to block former controlling shareholder Tony O'Reilly's bid to recapitalise the company amid mounting debt. Mr O'Brien was successful in ousting the O'Reilly family's grip on the company earlier this year.

Mr Connolly faced sacking from the Independent News' board earlier this year when he filed legal action against the company over its 1.9 million euro golden handshake to outgoing boss Gavin O'Reilly. The dispute was heard in the courts but later settled a day before the judge made his decision.

Gavin O'Reilly took over the reins of the company from his father, Tony O'Reilly, in 2009 as part of a peace deal brokered with Mr O'Brien to calm the shareholder battle.

At the Independent News annual meeting in June, Mr Connolly kept his board seat, though chairman James Osborne and financial controller Donal Buggy were dumped.

Shares in Independent News sank 5.3% to 9 euro cents in trading on the Irish Stock Exchange yesterday and have shed 54%this year.

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