US: Phone Company Bars Reporter From Its Shareholder Meeting

The IDT Corporation, a telecommunications and entertainment company that is under pressure for its languishing share price, barred a New York Times reporter from its shareholder meeting yesterday.

In the last year, the company has drawn attention on several fronts, including its foray into making movies and some disputes surrounding its long-distance telephone business.

Nell Minow, editor of The Corporate Library, a governance watchdog, said barring journalists from annual meetings was uncommon but not unprecedented. There is nothing requiring public companies to open their shareholder meetings to the public.

"Sunshine is the best disinfectant, and companies that have nothing to hide welcome the press," Ms. Minow said.

A woman identifying herself as working for media relations at IDT, which is based in Newark, said it was her understanding that IDT has never let reporters attend its annual meetings.

But newspaper archives indicate that reporters from New Jersey newspapers attended IDT's annual meetings in 1997 and 2000.

As the meeting began on the 17th floor of IDT's headquarters, the spokeswoman said the company's director of media relations was on his way to discuss the matter but was parking his car.

However, the media relations executive, Gil Nielsen, had not appeared more than an hour after the meeting began, and calls to a cellphone number provided for him went into a voice mail box that was full.

Robert E. Robotti of the money management firm Robotti & Company, which owns under 300,000 shares, pointed out in an interview that there are a number of board members who are accustomed to forums that are open to the public.

Several directors including the chief executive, James A. Courter, a former congressman from New Jersey, have served in public office. Other directors include Jeane J. Kirkpatrick, a former ambassador to the United Nations; Jack F. Kemp, the former New York congressman and vice presidential nominee; James S. Gilmore III, a former governor of Virginia; and Rudy Boschwitz, a former senator from Minnesota.
The company's largest individual shareholder, with a 22.5 percent interest held through the Liberty Media Group, is the media entrepreneur John C. Malone.

Shareholders who attended the meeting said Mr. Courter was questioned about executive compensation and other governance issues.
IDT shares, which traded as high as $16.59 in the last year, closed yesterday at $11.65, down 8 cents.

AMP Section Name:Media & Entertainment
  • 106 Money & Politics

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