Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Ingersoll Involved in Acrimonious Lawsuit in Dublin

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Ingersoll Involved in Acrimonious Lawsuit in Dublin

Article excerpt

Despite his legal problems, the ex-U.S. publisher wants to expand his newspaper operations in Europe

U.S. PUBLISHER RALPH Ingresoll II, who has been active in European media in recent years, is involved in an acrimonious lawsuit in Dublin, Ireland, regarding control of the troubled Irish Press Group.

Ingersoll bought 50% of the group at the end of 1989. The agrement called for Ingersoill Irish Publications to contribute management expertise and Irish Press PLC to have editorial control. Ingresoll also won the right to appoint the chief executive.

The group publishes three news-papers: the morning Irish Press, Evening Press and Sunday Press.

In a long-running case that has been adjourned until this month, Irish Press PLc is suing Ingresoll Irish Publications in the High Court in Dublin.

Irish Press is seeking to have the management contract overturned. The public limited company says Ingersoll has failed to provide a broad range of management services. Ingresoll is counterclaiming that Irish Press manaaing director Eamon de Valera has interfered in the management of the company, exercising an executive authority to which he has no right.

"The relationship between each of the partners in the venture has broken down pretty well irreparably," said Joe Burnell, a media industry analyst at Davy stockborkers in Dublin. "There's no trust on either side."

Ingersoll, who is based in London, failed in an attempt to have the case heard in secret. In a telephone interview before the case began, he defended his strategy.

"How would it advantage a publicly held media company," he saked, "to have two shareholders fighting in public so that the advertiser could be discouraged, the employees could be discouraged and the circulation could be depressed?"

De Valera said that before Ingersoll got involved, mangers recognized that Irish Press needed capital.

"We entered into partnership with Ingresoll on a very positive note," he said, "recognizing that our costs had to be reduced and full new technology had to be introduced."

The Irish newspaper market is a difficult one. Dublin has five daily newspapers and four Sunday papers. They all compete with each other as well as with inexpensive imports from England. Irish sales taxes are so high that an Irish newspaper may sell for less in London than it does in Dublin.

The Irish Press papers have felt these compertitive pressures particularly strongly. Since 1985, Burnell said, the market share of the three Irish Press titles has fallen from about 35% to slightly less than 23%.

In 1987, he said, the circulation of the Irish press was 78,000. Last year, it was 51,000. During the same period, the Sunday Press has dropped from a quarter of a milion to slightly more than 180,000. Circulation of the Evening Press has been in "free fall" -- from 123,000 to 72,000.

During this time, Burnell said, the Irish Press has "tried a few initiatives which haven't worked." The Irish Press went from staid broadsheet to brassy tabloid, and the Evneing Press was re-launched. Critics said the new version of the Evening Press substituted glitz for news.

The evening relaunch, de Valera conceded, "proved to be a diaster. We lost sales."

He now believes that the papers "are a good base for further development."

Circulations are stable, he said. The Evening Press has been redirected while the morning tabloid has improved. "It took an awful lot of time for our people to settle down and produce," he said, referring to the tabloid. …

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