A rather unwelcome bit of news hit the inboxes of Perth scribes yesterday, in Fortescue Metal’s annual general meeting reminder notice sent first thing in the morning. According to a run-down on the email, TV crews would be invited to set up from 9.15am for the 10am AGM, but by 10.40am, when the presentations by chairman Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest and and CEO Nev Power were done, the “media vacate room”.

AGMs are one of the few times corporate governance can get lively, and the questions from shareholders that come after the boiler-plate speeches are the best bit. But for far too many companies, AGMs aren’t live-streamed, meaning you need to be in the room to get the vibe. This is usually justified by the need to protect the privacy of shareholders who might want to ask questions. But it leaves all retail shareholders who aren’t there reliant on the media to know what happened. Needless to say, Fortescue’s directive was met with umbrage by reporters across the resources sector. Fin Review bureau chief Julie-anne Sprague even tried to buy some shares to get in as a shareholder, but she needed to have held shares by 4pm the day before to be able to attend. She tweeted the whole thing, no doubt adding a bit of pressure on Fortescue as the day wore on.

Several hours later, Fortescue quietly reached out to those who generally cover it, telling them the whole thing had been a mistake. It hadn’t meant to bar “media”, just to get TV crews to stop filming. For the usual privacy of shareholders reasons, it’s kicked out TV crews after the speeches in the past. Crisis averted, but not without some cost — those Crikey spoke to about it all said the company should know better. And not everyone was buying Fortescue’s explanation.

Companies do not have to allow the media into their AGMs, and plenty of small-fries do not, particularly when they’re trying to pass something controversial. And it’s not unheard of for individual reporters to be barred from AGMs. But for companies of Fortescue’s size and importance, it’s a very bad look.

Peter Fray

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