The appointment of inspectors to Independent News and Media (INM) would be unjustified and disproportionate, the group’s chairman said.
A watchdog wants them to investigate an alleged data security breach at Ireland’s largest newspaper group but the application is the subject of a High Court legal battle.
A lawyer for the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE) has previously said there was a compelling public interest in the appointments.
INM chairman Murdoch MacLennan said: “The board believes that it is not in the interests of INM that an inspector would be appointed, and does not believe that the appointment of an inspector would be either justified or proportionate in all the circumstances, particularly given INM’s co-operation with the ODCE and the fact that the Data Protection Commissioner is conducting her own investigation.
“Let me tell you this: If there was any wrongdoing in the past it was done without the knowledge or approval of the board, and the board is prepared to take such steps as are necessary to protect INM’s interests and to obtain redress from third parties if advised that it is appropriate to do so.”
In March INM received information from the ODCE about the danger of personal data having been put at risk of inappropriate disclosure. Journalists’ information may have been involved.
INM, which owns the Irish Independent and Belfast Telegraph, appointed Deloitte to conduct a full investigation.
Mr MacLennan added: “The board is horrified at the prospect that third parties may have had access for an improper purpose to data held by INM which relates to, or concerns, INM’s employees or others. If it has occurred, this is entirely deplorable.
“The board believes that any person who facilitated or exploited such access should be required to account fully as to how and why they obtained access to such data, for what purpose and what use was actually made of such data.
“The board is particularly concerned by the suggestion that data maintained by journalists for the purposes of their professional activities might have been accessed for any improper purpose.
“The board considers the integrity and protection of journalist sources and inquiries a foundation stone of the operation of a free and effective press and is committed to protecting those fundamental principles.”
The corporate investigation began in 2016 after concerns were raised over the details of a possible acquisition by INM of radio station Newstalk.
The largest shareholder at INM is one of Ireland’s richest men, billionaire Denis O’Brien.
Newstalk’s parent group, Communicorp, is owned by Mr O’Brien.
Mr MacLennan addressed an INM annual general meeting in Dublin.
He said: “I am pleased to confirm that the group’s trading performance year-to-date continues in line with market expectations.
“This is despite the challenges from the red weather warning in March which had a negative impact on the ability to get newspapers into shops, and higher declines in digital advertising than expected.
“The costs associated with the ODCE, the Data Protection Commissioner matters and restructuring the business will be treated as exceptional charges in the group income statement.”