CAMPAIGNS: WHAT THE MEDIA SAY - Cancelled BT dinner draws press knives

Organisation: BT

Issue: cancelled shareholder meeting

BT's cancellation of its shareholders' dinner last week did little to

soothe the growing disquiet over BT's current direction.

The meeting, to present BT's plan for reducing its pounds 30 billion

debt, was postponed at the eleventh hour, fuelling calls for the

sacrifice of senior board members.

Although the dinner was part of its regular investor programme, the

press latched onto the cancellation as an opportunity to go for BT's


Following the recent round of expensive Third Generation mobile phone

licence bids, some noted that BT was in a no-win situation.

'If BT had held off ... Sir Iain Vallance and Sir Peter Bonfield would

already have been hounded out of their jobs as far too cautious and

unambitious for the new age,' wrote The Independent (21/3).

Despite a very straight corporate bat being played, an anonymous source

was quoted as saying that the decision was motivated by concern that

BT's strategy was being dictated by the press (, 20/3).

Considerable editorial analysis was dedicated to discussion of BT's

various options.

Ideas mooted ranged from the flotation of assets, the sale of stakes in

companies such as Japan Telecom, an emergency share issue, a reduction

of shareholder dividends, and the sale of BT real estate.

One contributor to website Motley Fool's message board even suggested

that a series of ideas were being floated in the press to 'see how the

markets/commentators react,' (, 22/3).

Most agreed that none of the options looked appealing, but there was a

unanimous understanding that a 'do nothing' strategy was

unacceptable. asserted that in playing the 'wait-and-see game ... the

company has managed to build an impressive list of irritated parties,'


Press speculation concerning the weekend suggested that BT's silence

would continue until the end-of-year results in May.

However, as columnist Ben Laurance stated, 'trying to read what is going

on at BT's headquarters must be rather how it felt for political

analysts who wanted to divine what was happening in the Kremlin in the

Sixties,' (Financial Mail, 25/3).

Analysis and commentary by Echo Research. More information can be found


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