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Editor-in-chief steps down from Irish news publisher amid legal battle over suspected data security incident

The group editor-in-chief of a major Irish news publisher is stepping down after five years in the role and 25 years with the business.

Stephen Rae said it had been a “privilege and honour” to lead titles including the Irish Independent, Sunday Independent and The Herald.

But, he said he would be leaving publisher Independent News and Media at the end of his five-year term.

One of nine directors on the group’s board is also resigning as it deals with the fallout from a suspected data security incident from 2014, the details of which have only just emerged.

In a statement published by the Irish Independent this week, Rae said:  “Following a transformation of the group into a digital focused newsroom and content hub, I am now happy to leave the publishing business in a strong position and hand it over to a team of strong and dynamic editors.

“I’m leaving the business at a time when all print titles are market leaders and online platform Independent.ie has become the nation’s go-to news source.

“During my 25 years at INM I feel greatly privileged to have worked with many extremely bright and exceptional people and to have guided the coverage on some of the biggest news stories our country has seen.

“I am now looking forward to taking on new digital projects which will focus on my core interests of developing new revenue models for journalism along with the hugely important editorial fight against fake news.”

In January Rae was one of 39 media figures appointed to the European Commission’s high level expert group looking at fake news and online disinformation. The group advised the EC against “simplistic solutions” to the threat.

INM chief executive Michael Doorly thanked Rae “for his efforts and contribution to the company over many years”.

He said: “Stephen has provided great editorial direction to all of our titles and built a team of outstanding editors.

“I would like to thank him for his support during my tenure as chief executive and wish him every success for the future.”

INM, which owns seven national newspapers and 12 regional titles, is currently in a legal battle with Ireland’s corporate watchdog, the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement.

The ODCE applied to the Irish High Court to allow inspectors to probe INM’s affairs in March after a suspected data security incident came to light in 2014.

The High Court affidavit revealed the alleged data breach centres around the company’s IT system back-up tapes being removed from its Dublin premises and “interrogated” (searching and obtaining data), leading to concerns the emails of several journalists were accessed externally.

INM chairman Murdoch MacLennan said last week the board was “horrified” by the prospect that third parties may have had access relating to INM employees for an improper purposes, especially that relating to journalists’ work.

“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,” he said.

INM has tried to block any appointment of inspectors to the company and its case for judicial review over the ODCE’s application to do so was heard in the High Court last week.

In a statement on its website, INM also announced this week that its non-executive director Paul Connolly is stepping down from his role after nine years on 31 May.

MacLennan said: ‘”While I am very disappointed that Paul has decided to resign at this time, I am hugely grateful for the immense contribution he has made to the company over a significant period of transition.

“I have valued Paul’s experience, knowledge and independent pragmatic counsel as a board member and colleague. His contribution to the board will be greatly missed.”

INM’s statement said Connolly had played an integral role in the “positive restoration of the INM balance sheet” and the introduction of its digital strategy, “positioning the business for future growth”.

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