APN CEO Quits in Board Departures Over Share-Sale Dispute

APN News & Media Ltd. Chairman Peter Hunt, Chief Executive Officer Brett Chenoweth and three other directors resigned in a dispute with the publisher’s largest shareholder over plans to sell stock and reduce debt.

The departure of directors Melinda Conrad, John Harvey and John Maasland, together with Hunt and Chenoweth, will take effect at 9 a.m. local time tomorrow, Sydney-based APN said today in a statement. A fourth board member, Kevin Luscombe, will retire as scheduled in April, it said.

Independent News & Media Plc, the Irish company that owns 29 percent of APN, said on Feb. 15 that it wanted Chenoweth’s removal because it had lost confidence in his ability to reposition the publisher of the New Zealand Herald.

“While the board agreed the company needed to reduce its debt, it was unable to agree on the methodology,” APN said today. Departing directors believed a capital raising should be undertaken when APN announces full-year results later this week, while “Independent News & Media Plc and its major shareholder together with Allan Gray, representing approximately 51 percent of APN’s shares, have unequivocally indicated they are opposed to a capital raising at the present time.”

INM jumped as much as 16 percent to 3.7 euro cents, the biggest intraday gain since Jan. 2, and was trading up 6.3 percent at 9:56 a.m. in Dublin. APN shares, which have fallen 61 percent in the past year amid a slump in advertising and a A$485 million ($499 million) writedown of its New Zealand publications, didn’t trade today pending the announcement.

Gavin O’Reilly stepped down as CEO of Dublin-based Independent News & Media in April, ending four decades of control of Ireland’s biggest newspaper company by his family, amid pressure from the company’s largest shareholder, Irish billionaire Denis O’Brien. INM said in November “the need for substantial and urgent restructuring is evident” given the group’s “significant level of debt” and continuing decline in advertising revenue and circulation.

INM said yesterday that it reached an agreement to sell its South African unit to Sekunjalo Independent Media Consortium for 2 billion rand ($226 million) as it seeks to reduce debt.

To contact the reporter on this story: Finbarr Flynn in Dublin at fflynn3@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Douglas Lytle at dlytle@bloomberg.net

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