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Yahoo Bars Reporters From the Big Dance

April 26, 2001|Associated Press

Yahoo, the Internet portal that built a billion-dollar business delivering information to anyone, anywhere, is barring journalists from its annual shareholders' meeting Friday.

Reporters who don't own stock in the company will have to listen over the Internet, getting a flavor but far from a full sense of the proceedings--and inhibiting their access to shareholders.

Yahoo is well within its legal rights to keep reporters out of the Santa Clara, Calif., hotel ballroom where the meeting will be held. Nevertheless, the decision goes against a long-standing practice, built on the premise that journalists are the eyes and ears of investors who can't travel to the meetings.

"I've never heard of the media being barred altogether," said Diane Bratcher, spokeswoman for the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, a New York-based coalition of religious institutional investors.

Yahoo spokeswoman Nicki Dugan said the rule has been in place for the company's entire five-year history as a public company. Management wants to make sure there is enough space for investors in the ballroom, she said.

Dugan said Yahoo executives checked with other Silicon Valley companies and determined that several have similar policies at their annual meetings. She cited Cisco Systems and Sun Microsystems as examples.

Spokeswomen for Cisco and Sun, however, denied that their companies have such a policy. Dugan later said she had erred in listing Sun and Cisco as examples. She said Yahoo's investor relations department had found other examples, but she was "not at liberty to disclose" them.

Shareholder meetings are usually somewhat perfunctory. Company managers discuss the previous year's results and outlook for the future, and shareholders vote on the board of directors.

But Yahoo's meeting comes as the company faces several challenges: a stock price that has lost 85% of its value in the last year (it inched up 67 cents to $18.68 on Nasdaq on Wednesday); plunging profits and revenue in the wake of the dot-com implosion; the first layoffs in the company's history; and a transition to a new chief executive, former Warner Bros. head Terry Semel.

"They're an intelligent company," said Tim Smith, senior vice president at Boston-based Walden Asset Management. "They should pause, reexamine the policy and realize that it's censorship, and open the doors."

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