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Archive for August 19th, 2012

“This concludes the AGM of NOT Independent News & Media” James Osborne, former chairman of Independent News and Media (IN&M), who was voted out of office on 8th June 2012

The evidence of the insidious progress of businessman Denis O’Brien in influencing, coercing and suppressing Ireland’s media grows with every passing week. On Wednesday last, Vincent Browne claimed that journalist Sam Smyth has been ostracised at the Independent News and Media group, where he was a regular writer for the Independent, whose editor is Gerry O’Regan, and Sam’s last report was at the end of May 2012 – he’s been apparently sidelined since then, according to Vincent.

Sam Smyth was previously the subject of a cack-handed demand by Denis O’Brien’s associate Leslie Buckley to the former CEO of IN&M who wanted Sam removed from reporting on the Moriarty Tribunal, the tribunal which ultimately reached “adverse findings” in relation to Denis O’Brien in the award of a mobile phone license in 1995. The broadsheet.ie website has published former IN&M CEO Gavin O’Reilly’s record of the incident. Sam subsequently lost his job on Today FM, a radio station owned by Denis O’Brien’s Communicorp.

Today in the Sunday Independent, in what appears to be brave defiance by editor Anne Harris, there is an interview with former IN&M chairman, James Osborne, there are stark claims that Denis O’Brien sought to suppress an article which was – eventually (see below) – published on 15th April, 2012. The article – available here – detailed Anglo Irish Bank’s largest borrowers as at March 2009, of which Denis was one. The article said

“Denis O’Brien, the telecoms entrepreneur, is listed as owing Anglo Irish Bank €833.8m on foot of personal and corporate loans just after the bank was nationalised in 2009, making him its then sixth largest borrower. Mr O’Brien has over the past three years reduced his borrowings to under €500m using cash generated by his Caribbean and Pacific-based mobile phone empire.” The article continues but it is indeed innocuous stuff.

Today James Osborne is quoted as saying “As you know — as you wrote in your paper on April 7, which was a Saturday, at about one o’clock I got a call from Denis… then he said “they’ve been on to me, there’s an article in tomorrow’s paper and I want it withdrawn” — and I said “I’m sorry, not me. I’m an independent non-executive chairman and I’m not doing that, I’m not going to interfere in an editorial”, and we had an argument about it….I mean could you imagine if I had rung you [Anne Harris] up, at that stage I had only met you at your husband’s funeral, and said: “Hello, I’m your chairman,” — you must be thrilled to get this call on a Saturday afternoon — “There’s an article about Denis O’Brien which was about the 13 biggest borrowers in Anglo, I want it out.” Actually the article was innocuous, there was nothing in it.”

It seems that James got the call from Denis on 7th April, 2012 which was a Saturday and it seems the Anglo Top 13 borrowers story was to appear in the Sunday Independent the following day which was Sunday 8th April, 2012. In fact, the story didn’t appear until the following week, the 15th April, 2012, which is odd and might suggest questions as to whether the story due for publication on 8th was modified before its actual publication on 15th. Anne Harris did refer to this incident in an article on 17th June, 2012, but the full details couldn’t emerge until James Osborne could talk freely about the matter.

So now we have at least two credible claims of Denis O’Brien seeking to suppress reporting in Ireland’s biggest print media group, a group in which he now owns 30% of the shares and has substantial control over the board. It seems that the second attempt at editorial interference is denied by a representative of Denis O’Brien, in response to which James Osborne today says “and I know Denis’s representative — or whoever — has denied that the call took place, but if he denies that the call took place that is a straight forward lie”

The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland recently – bizarrely – concluded that “Mr. O’Brien’s interests in Independent News and Media (“IN&M”) are relevant to the Authority in the context of its statutory obligation to consider “the desirability of allowing any person, or group of persons, to have control of, or substantial interests in, an undue amount of communications media” in an area.  In this regard, the Authority was obliged to consider the changes in Mr. O’Brien’s interests in IN&M to determine whether the changes amounted to “substantial interest” or “control” as those terms are defined in the Policy. At its meeting on 23rd July 2012 the Authority determined that Mr. O’Brien does not control IN&M.  Rather he has a substantial interest in the Company, as that term is defined in the Policy.  In this regard, the Authority was not obliged to review Mr. O’Brien’s interests in the context of an undue amount of communications media.”

The nine members of the Authority are Bob Collins (Chairperson), Larry Bass, Paula Downey, Professor Colum Kenny, Michelle Mc Shortall, Dr Maria Moloney, Michael Moriarty, Siobhán Ní Ghadhra and John Waters.

It is high time that the Authority was summoned before an Oireachtas committee – presumably the Joint Committee on Transport and Communications – to justify itself.

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With a quite obvious and serious oversupply of office buildings still in evidence in central Dublin, it is not surprising to learn that Californian real estate investment company, Kennedy Wilson has snapped up Brooklawn House in Ballsbridge for a total of €15m – Kennedy Wilson says that it is going 50:50 in the building with an unnamed partner, so Kennedy Wilson’s share of the purchase price would have been €7.5m. The net operating income from the building in the past 12 months was €2.2m, indicating a yield on the purchase of 15%. The building had been on the market through Savills for €17m – the MyHome.ie property listing and brochure are available here.

The 45,000 sq ft 5-storey 3rd-generation building with 39 car parking spaces is rented to blue chip tenants including Citibank, IG International Management and Irish state agencies Eirgrid and the Higher Education Authority. It was owned by a consortium of investors including Sean FitzPatrick, the bankrupt former chairman of Anglo Irish Bank, and indeed it was Anglo’s successor, IBRC that has receivers Kieran Wallace appointed to sell the building.

Kennedy Wilson is taking on a considerable exposure in Ireland, with the €40m acquisition of the Alliance Building complex of 210 apartments beside Barrow Street in Dublin 2, as well as a 50% stake in Lloyds Bank/BoSI “Project Prince” portfolio of loans secured by Irish commercial property – this latter deal was announced during the week, but had been flagged by UK commercial property portal CoStar in June 2012. Kennedy Wilson was joined by Deutsche Bank in the acquisition of the €360m Lloyds portfolio.  In 2011, it acquired Bank of Ireland’s Real Estate Investment Management (BofIREIM) company for an undisclosed sum, which was the US company’s first foray into the EuroZone – BofREIM has €1.8bn of real estate assets under management. At the start of 2012, it again partnered with Deutsche Bank to buy a €1.5bn-nominal-value Bank of Ireland UK loan portfolio, for which it paid €900m. Last year, Kennedy Wilson was one of four investors in a consortium which acquired 34.9% of Bank of Ireland.

It is understood that nearby office block, St Martin;s House is still on the market after sources claimed a 13% yielding sale had fallen through.

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