PERTH: Buoyant fiscal third quarter results at West Australian Newspapers have strengthened the company's defences against a boardroom coup by its largest shareholder Seven Network.

Seven, which holds a 17.3% stake in WAN, is demanding the removal of all but one of the newspaper group's directors.

The exception is ceo Ken Steinke, and the issue is the main agenda item for extraordinary meeting of the company's shareholders on April 23.

But the robust set of Q3 numbers is likely to prove a major defensive bulwark for WAN chairman Peter Mansell – and an obstacle for his wannabe nemesis, Seven's aggressive chairman Kerry Stokes.

The West Australian newspaper, the publisher's primary asset, was the driver for a 13% year-on-year increase in underlying earnings to A$31 million ($28.61m; €18.08m; £14.44m) for the first three months of 2008.

Says Mansell: "This latest result highlights very clearly that the attacks by Mr Stokes on WAN's financial performance are without substance, and that under his criticisms lie another motive." 

But from a neutral corner, BBY media analyst Mark McDonnell blames the dispute on "the personalities [having] overridden the points of principle.

"The fact that WAN is a good company [and] has been a successful business is not in dispute, but the fact that there have been problems is also, I think, being not squarely faced by an increasingly defensive board, as represented by the public statements of its chairman."

Data sourced from Sydney Morning Herald; additional content by WARC staff