16/04/2008 - 22:00

Boardroom vote looms

16/04/2008 - 22:00

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With less than a week before the culmination of the boardroom battle at WA Newspapers Holdings Ltd, both sides remained in full battle mode ahead of Wednesday’s extraordinary shareholder meeting.

With less than a week before the culmination of the boardroom battle at WA Newspapers Holdings Ltd, both sides remained in full battle mode ahead of Wednesday’s extraordinary shareholder meeting.

This time the efforts have focused on third party endorsements with WAN’s board giving prominent exposure to the views of two institutional advisory firms and the Australian Shareholders Association.

The Seven Network Ltd, which is seeking to spill the WAN board and install its own directors, Kerry Stokes and Peter Gammell, also sought external views on the process.  It sought advice on which of the seven other candidates it ought to vote for to fill two seats should they become vacant.

Seven said, following  an analysis by adviser Korn Ferry, it would support the candidacy’s of Professor Margaret Seares and Peter Abery, which gives them a significant head start among the field of independents.

WAN chairman Peter Mansell said reports by RiskMetrics and GCI Glass Lewis recommending against the board spill would be influential among institutional shareholders that represent up to 30 per cent of WAN’s equity.

Mr Mansell said the WAN board had been gauging support for its arguments that the Seven camp was seeking control without paying a premium and had a conflict of interest due to its rivalry in the media sector.

He said some of the reaction had been positive and some undecided.

Mr Mansell said no institutions had said they would vote for Seven at this stage.

The WAN board will have been buoyed by last week’s statement by the shareholders association, opposing the Seven move.

The ASA said that shareholders were unlikely to benefit from any of the proposed changes in leadership of the company.

“We see nothing in the performance of the company over the past five years to warrant the dismissal of the current board” ASA director and WA branch chairman Tom Herzfeld said in a statement.

“Whilst we respect Kerry Stokes as a notable and successful Western Australian, we do not believe his presence on the WAN board would necessarily advance retail shareholders’ interests.

“Indeed his elevation to non-executive director will create further difficulties given that the existing directors have indicated they will not serve with Mr Stokes.”

Mr Mansell also dismissed Mr Stokes recent attacks on the editorial content of WAN’s flagship The West Australian as well as issues arising from distribution woes as merely a smokescreen to distract investors from the real issues.

“I am not making light of the (distribution) problem but I am saying to you that the problem is along the way to a solution,” Mr Mansell said.

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