Johnston Press has been hit by a demand from its largest shareholder to hold a formal vote on whether to appoint former SNP leader Alex Salmond as chairman, pitching the newspaper’s board against its own shareholders in an unprecedented confrontation.
Christen Ager-Hanssen, who controls a 20% stake in the business, has demanded an extraordinary general meeting (EGM) to depose current chairman Camilla Rhodes and non-executive director Mike Butterworth to clear the decks for Salmond’s anointment alongside veteran newspaper executive Steve Auckland.
A dangerous game of poker has broken out between both sides after it emerged that a ‘poison pill’ clause had been inserted three years ago, which would make the company's entire debt payable immediately if new directors form the majority of the board without being appointed by existing directors – thwarting efforts toward an aggressive takeover.
Ager-Hanssen is attempting to transform Johnston Press following years of retrenchment in the face of a mounting debt pile as a shift to digital eats away at revenues and has declared himself confident of securing the additional 30% support he needs to pass his resolutions.
Acknowledging he must now proceed carefully, Ager-Hanssen said: “We are taking a step-by-step approach now. We want to get our people on the board and see what they have done to Johnston Press.”
Johnston Press now has three weeks to announce a date for the EGM, which must take place within a further 28 days but Ager-Hanssen has called on Rhodes and Butterworth to resign before the vote.
The board are likely to fight tooth and nail against the bid however amidst concern that Salmond will use this platform to pursue his nationalist agenda, which has seen him become a bitter critic of the BBC.