None of the Independent News & Media (INM) group's core newspaper assets, including those in South Africa, were for sale, a spokesman for INM said, writes Ann Crotty in Business Report.

Pat Walshe told Business Report that management was looking only at the sale of INM outdoor advertising assets in Africa.

The comments were made in the wake of Friday's announcement of dramatic changes to the INM board, which prompted speculation among industry sources and media analysts that the reorganisation of the board marked the beginning of broader changes, aimed at easing the group's hefty debt burden and ensuring that it was better placed for the tough trading conditions ahead.

In a statement after the announcement, Denis O'Brien, who holds 26 percent of INM, said: "I believe these changes represent the beginning of a new era at INM and one that brings with it challenges which cannot be underestimated, recognising that INM operates in an industry which is experiencing rapid change. I hope the new board will bring forward a series of wide-ranging decisions which will, in time, result in a stronger company."

However, Walshe would only say that following the changes to the board – specifically the retirement of chief executive Anthony O'Reilly on his 73rd birthday in May, the reduction in the number of board members from 17 to 10, and the appointment of three associates of O'Brien to the new board – shareholders with 55 percent of INM now agreed with the strategy set out in a market update released on January 26.

Gavin O'Reilly will be promoted from chief operating officer to chief executive. The O'Reillys hold 28.5 percent of the INM shares, which collapsed from a high of E2.43 (R31.35 at Friday's exchange rate) last May to a low of E0.10 on Thursday. The shares closed at E0.17 after Friday's decision.

The January trading update referred to the crucial issue of the E1.5 billion debt on the balance sheet and stated that management was "working constructively to de-risk its balance sheet and to reduce debt" to meet the "maturity of its May 2009 E200 million 5.75 percent senior bond".

The board has identified potential assets for sale, which they describe as "either non-strategic core assets or those assets whose disposal will not impact on the existing operating divisions". The severity of the debt situation is reflected in the fact that late last year INM had to give the banks a charge over the group's core Irish newspapers to roll over debt due last December.

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