Ilankai Tamil Sangam

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Hanky Panky Happenings at the House of Hindu (Chennai)

by Sachi Sri Kantha, January 20, 2012

Ram confirmed his commitment to retire and also this succession plan to me not once but twice shortly after. When everyone took his word at face value and in good faith, in the month of February 2010, he reneged on his commitment to retire to my utter shock and dismay...

In these 18 months matters have reached a very low point indeed—with a brazen and crude display of factionalism, opportunistic and vote-bank politics, quid-pro-quo deals, bad faith, vindictive acts, selective targeting of individuals and pursuing personal agendas by some board members all combining into a messy ‘slugfest’ among the Board members.

The January 18, 2012 issue of The Hindu carried the following brief announcement.

“A well-prepared process of editorial succession, which began in July 2011, has been completed in The Hindu group of publications with N. Ram stepping down as Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of The Hindu, Business Line, Frontline, and Sportstar.

In consequence, Siddharth Varadarajan, Editor, The Hindu, has succeeded Mr. Ram, with effect from January 19, 2012, as Editor of The Hindu responsible for the selection of news under the Press and Registration of Books (PRB) Act of 1867.

D. Sampathkumar, Editor, Business Line, R. Vijaya Sankar, Editor, Frontline, and Nirmal Shekar, Editor, Sportstar, have taken over, with effect from January 19, 2012, as Editors responsible for the selection of news under the Press and Registration of Books (PRB) Act of 1867 in these Group publications.

K. Balaji, Managing Director of Kasturi & Sons Ltd., the public limited company that brings out The Hindu group of publications, has succeeded Mr. Ram as Publisher of all our publications.”

Narasimhan Ram in 1987
Narasimhan Ram in 1987

As a regular reader of The Hindu since 1977, I was rather surprised by the ham-fisted cliché that began the first sentence: “A well-prepared process of editorial succession”. I suspected that there should be something deep to this announcement. I did a search on the name of the newly appointed editor Siddarth Varadarajan; and located a series of epistles that had appeared in the URL https://wearethebest.wordpress.com/tag/siddharth-varadarajan/

As readers of the sangam website know, I have been a serious critic of the brand of journalism practiced by the House of Hindu, in licking the sandals of Colombo’s ruling tyrants, and promoting the careers of sycophantic Colombo Tamils like Lakshman Kadirgamar and Neelan Tiruchelvam. In this website, I have lambasted the anti-Eelam writings of Narasimhan Ram, Malini Parthasarathy, Nirupama Subramanian and their coterie. Now it is revealed that even within this coterie, there had been serious in-fighting and back stabbing. Now, we are hearing from the proverbial horse’s mouth. What the three ‘horses’ (Malini Parthasarathy, N. Ravi and N. Murali) that had bolted from the House of Hindu stable reveal confirms my anti-Hindu criticism of the past.

For the benefit of Sangam readers (many of whom, including me, despised the braggart personality of Narasimhan Ram and his cabal), I provide the materials that I checked in the above-metioned URL.

Malini Parthasarathy had attacked N. Ram as follows: “Battling this tremendously debilitating hate campaign spearheaded by the present editor-in-chief, N. Ram and a cabal which tried every trick in the book to discredit my work for The Hindu, caricaturing me, making stinging references to my past personal difficulties…”

N. Ravi had written as follows: “A combination of megalomania and a crass disregard of the values that The Hindu has always stood for has brought the institution to this sorry state. It is shocking that some of the board members should want to run a media institution like a company producing plastic buckets with purely commercial considerations and unethical practices overwhelming editorial interests and values, thereby damaging the credibility of the newspaper…”

N. Murali, the ex-Managing editor of the Hindu has opined: “The Editorial side is run like a ‘banana republic’ with cronyism and vested interests ruling the roost and finding space in the editorial columns…”

The Hindu masthead

(1) Letter of Malini Parthasarathy to the board of directors of Kasturi & Sons

[dated July 20, 2011]  

Dear Colleagues,

I am writing this letter with a strong sense of hurt and anguish.

I have served this newspaper for the last 28 years with great earnestness, faith and a real sense of commitment in various capacities, starting as a staff reporter in Madras, and despite tremendous resistance from vested interests in the establishment, strong family and gender prejudice, have managed to make a substantive contribution to this newspaper’s glorious editorial heritage and reputation.

I was proud, as a granddaughter of Kasturi Srinivasan, a great Editor of The Hindu, to have risen through the editorial ranks and established a strong presence in the public arena even as I worked tirelessly to help build on the Hindu’s primary strengths—its editorial integrity and its commitment to journalism in its real sense, telling the news story as it really unfolds, without fear or favour.

In 2003, the strong family jealousies and prejudice intervened to pull away all my editorial responsibilities reflecting in an extremely personal and vindictive hate campaign, tarnishing my reputation, making me out to be “extra-constitutional” a “usurper” despite my more than two decades of editorial service, my academic qualifications and ground experience and despite the fact that I was an editorial functionary appointed by the Board of Directors.

Battling this tremendously debilitating hate campaign spearheaded by the present editor-in-chief, N. Ram and a cabal which tried every trick in the book to discredit my work for The Hindu, caricaturing me, making stinging references to my past personal difficulties, I still tried to make a contribution these last eight years to the editorial structure.

I spent all my evenings in the newsroom, tried to make constructive interventions only to be overruled and ridiculed in public. Although the daily humiliations were unbearable, I endured all this with the faith in this Board, that ultimately fairness and justice would prevail.

I did believe that this Board believed in equality of opportunity and it would recognise the work I had done for The Hindu but this was clearly not to be.

In bringing in Siddharth Varadarajan, an outsider with no familiarity with the Hindu’s rich editorial inheritance and no particular institutional loyalty, in the guise of “professionalising and contemporising”, what is sought to be done is to eliminate qualified successors from the family.

I deeply regret that my legitimate professional aspirations, especially as I had no hidden personal agenda nor any other stake in The Hindu were so belittled and so rudely rebuffed.

I am also deeply worried for the future of the newspaper given the scheme that is being contemplated by a group of directors who want to reduce the role of the Editor to another functionary in the company, sitting along with business side executives, treating the editorial operations as another branch of the corporate banyan tree.

By no means is this contemporising or professionalising editorial operations. This is only legitimizing the incursions of personal agendas into editorial operations. While being market-friendly is certainly necessary, succumbing to a range of dangerous personal agendas including gross self-promotion is not in the interest of this great newspaper.

I am resigning from the post of executive editor since my continuance has become untenable with the Board seeking to humiliate me by putting a junior professional like Siddharth Varadarajan over me as editor.

I, however, remain a whole time director of the company.

Sincerely

Malini Parthasarathy

*****

(2) Letter of N. Ravi to the board of directors of Kasturi & Sons

[dated July 20, 2011]

Dear colleagues

I write this letter with a deep sense of distress over the unsavoury happenings in the company that we and generations before us have nurtured with great care and dedication.

You are all aware that I have been working in a professional capacity in The Hindu since 1972. The period when I was in charge as Editor between 1991 and 2003 saw the unprecedented expansion in the reach and coverage of The Hindu, and its transformation into a truly national newspaper that engaged in a lively and interesting way with the issues of the day.

The Hindu was then occupying the second position among the English language newspapers in terms of circulation. The primacy of the editorial side was firmly established, fair coverage and diversity of opinions were ensured and the newspaper stood up to the pressures from governments as well.

It was also a period when people went about their work with total commitment and dedication with little inclination for boardroom politicking. A fair degree of harmony was established among family members in 2000 which, however, lasted only until 2003.

Recent events have shown that deceit, lack of probity and bad faith have come into the dealings among family members on the board with a clique being formed through exchange of unmerited favours.

The turn of events since September 2009, and particularly since February 2010, have been marked by reneging on commitments made and agreements reached, benefiting from favours but not honouring reciprocal obligations and the vindictive removal of responsibilities from some and handing them to inexperienced and unsuitable family members to humour them and shore up support for a clique.

After having sworn by tradition and continuity for so long, to suddenly seek to remove highly qualified shareholder family members from the posts they have been holding for decades reeks of vindictiveness and the pursuit of colourable personal agendas.

A combination of megalomania and a crass disregard of the values that The Hindu has always stood for has brought the institution to this sorry state. It is shocking that some of the board members should want to run a media institution like a company producing plastic buckets with purely commercial considerations and unethical practices overwhelming editorial interests and values, thereby damaging the credibility of the newspaper.

The whole exercise of removal from posts on the editorial side is sought to be carried out in the guise of professionalisation as if the family shareholders holding positions on the editorial side are not in themselves qualified professionals.

Also, any claim of professionalisation is a sham as the separation of ownership from management is being applied selectively to some shareholders even as some other shareholders including wholly unqualified persons are being allowed to continue in high positions.

Ironically, the board clique that now speaks of professionalisation has been resisting suggestions to frame norms for the selection of family members to different posts and has been continuing to distribute responsibilities as largesses arbitrarily and without regard to qualifications.

The same arbitrary, non-professional procedure was followed even in the case of the appointment of Siddharth Varadarajan: his name was announced for the first time at a board meeting and passed without any discussion in a few minutes.

There were no selection procedures or prior consultation or evaluation of candidates that are normally followed in any well run company. In other words, the start of the so called professionalisation process has itself been carried out in a wholly arbitrary, non-professional way.

You are all aware that the board clique that removed the responsibilities of N. Murali was indicted by the Company Law Board in CP 25 of 2010 as lacking in probity and good faith. The same lack of probity and good faith is on display now in dealing with the reorganization of the editorial side and the actions of the board clique have been challenged in a company petition.

While the SLP before the Supreme Court stands disposed of without a stay but with directions for expedited hearing, the company petition is still pending before the CLB.

In the circumstances, the unseemly hurry in pushing through the appointment of Siddharth Varadarajan as Editor has made my continuance as Editor untenable. I hereby resign as Editor of The Hindu to which post I was designated in 1991. However, I will continue as a wholetime director.

Sincerely,

N. Ravi

*****

(3) Farewell Message of N. Murali, ex-managing director of The Hindu

10 August 2011

Dear Colleagues

Sub: Farewell communication

As the curtain comes down on my forty-year-old career at this institution, it is time to thank you from the bottom of my heart for all the affection, support and goodwill extended to me.

Our committed and loyal employees are our 132-year newspaper’s most valuable assets. They have stood by the institution through all the ups and downs, taking immense pride in a newspaper that over a century has become a way of life with successive generations of loyal readers.

The Hindu has acquired the status of a public trust in which tens of thousands of its readers have placed their utmost faith, looking up to it as a moral force against wrong doing and an authentic voice of reason, objectivity, truth and fairness.

These are the core values on which The Hindu was founded and which constitute the kernel of its soul and philosophy.

Looking back over the last 40 years that I have been fortunate and privileged to have served this great institution, it is indeed heartening to see our iconic newspaper and the organization grow from strength to strength, while maintaining the unwavering trust and loyalty of its employees and its readers.

My long career has been one of satisfaction and fulfillment but has also seen extremely challenging times with some ups and downs.

I have always stayed focused and brought a lot of intensity and passion to my job.

I have pursued unwaveringly what I strongly believed in and stayed true to my core values and beliefs and core competency.

I always strove to pursue ethical business practices.

I consider myself extremely fortunate to have been an integral part of the impressive growth and development story of The Hindu during these decades along with its dedicated employees.

***

In accordance with my intention to retire from any active role that I communicated to all the directors on September 25, 2009, I have now formally communicated to the directors of honouring that word when I complete 65 years of age on August 11, 2011.

While it sums up my feelings of the horrible happenings in our institution for the past eighteen months, I owe it to all of you to take you into confidence and elaborate on them in this farewell communication.

I strongly believe that as a matter of good corporate governance there should be institutional mechanisms and norms like entry norms, qualifications, career progression and retirement norms, applicable to all shareholding family members in this organization just as all other employees are subjected to these rules and norms.

When I had proposed 65 as the age of retirement for a Director from any active role, it was with a view to ensuring a smooth succession at the top leadership of the company and of the newspaper while giving professionally qualified younger family members an opportunity to move to the top most echelons.

That suggestion was accepted by all concerned including the Editor-in-Chief who convened an informal meeting of all the five editorial directors on the same day i.e., 25 September 2009. An editorial succession plan was also agreed upon as follows: N. Ram to step down from any active role on May 4, 2010 and N. Ravi who had been the Editor between 1991-2003 would take over as Editor-in-Chief; Malini Parthasarathy would become Editor of The Hindu, Nirmala Lakshman would become Editor of the Sunday Magazine, features and Frontline, and K.Venugopal, the Editor of Businessline

Ram confirmed his commitment to retire and also this succession plan to me not once but twice shortly after. When everyone took his word at face value and in good faith, in the month of February 2010, he reneged on his commitment to retire to my utter shock and dismay.

That act of breach of faith triggered a whole series of unsavoury events which have taken an ugly turn and which are all now in the public domain.

In these 18 months matters have reached a very low point indeed—with a brazen and crude display of factionalism, opportunistic and vote-bank politics, quid-pro-quo deals, bad faith, vindictive acts, selective targeting of individuals and pursuing personal agendas by some board members all combining into a messy ‘slugfest’ among the Board members.

There is no question that these anti-institution actions by a coterie of the Board have seriously eroded the quality, reputation and credibility of The Hindu and have also severely impaired the competitive ability and profitability of the whole enterprise.

***

It is indeed unfortunate that editorial primacy has been sacrificed at the altar of excessive commercialism and vested interests to pander to the wishes of some of the directors who have a crass disregard of the values The Hindu has always stood for.

The overcentralised and autocratic management of the editorial side sharply contrasts with the chaotic fragmentation of the non-editorial side.

While conditions have been created by this faction of the Board to ease out professionally qualified and senior editorial directors, all the directors on the non-editorial side, an overwhelming majority of whom, are not adequately qualified and also lack the necessary experience, continue to hang on to their positions that were earlier dished out as part of exchange of favours.

Shockingly, N. Ram, the Editor-in-Chief continues in his all powerful post for an indefinite period. There is again no word yet on K. Venugopal’s stepping back.

The Editorial side is run like a ‘banana republic’ with cronyism and vested interests ruling the roost and finding space in the editorial columns.

Murdochism’ with some of its most undesirable and sinister features has taken firm hold of the newspaper.

***

Quite apart from the blatantly pro-CPI(M) and pro-China tilt in coverage, Ram’s abuse of his position in The Hindu and influence peddling has been unrestrained by any ideology.

Two recent events have brought this to the fore.

The first is the coverage or non coverage of the 2G scam and turning The Hindu into a mouthpiece of accused A. Raja, going out of the way to organize an interview with him and publishing it on the day of his resignation.

The second and most recent incident has been brought out by the Gujarat police officer Sanjeev Bhatt in his affidavit filed in the Supreme Court which shows Ram as being the recipient of an e-mail on a matter as sensitive and serious as the investigation and related matters of post Godhra 2002 riots in Gujarat.

Sanjeev Bhatt has annexed an email to his affidavit which is very revealing. In that email that S. Gurumurthy sent to Ram on February 17, 2010, he had annexed a note on the investigations into the Gujarat riots case. “Here is the note, I would like you to go through it that you understand the issues before you talk to the person concerned,” goes the email. We all know who the “person concerned” that Ram was supposed to talk to is.

The periodic and extensive friendly interviews of Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksha done by N. Ram and carried in full op-ed pages served only as a smokescreen to hide the alleged war crimes that the UN committee indicted the Srilankan government on.

In my book, the two major blots on the journalistic record of The Hindu over the last forty years relate to its stand on the Emergency that was in force between June 1975 and March 1977 and on the largest scam in the history of independent India, the 2G scam.

Under its then Editor, G.Kasturi, The Hindu disgracefully extended tacit support to and even collaborated with the Emergency regime. On the 2G scam, under the Editor-in-Chief N. Ram, The Hindu shamefully acted as an apologist and mouthpiece of the prime accused A.Raja. It had only muted coverage of the 2G scam.

While The Hindu editorially asked for the resignations of Ashok Chavan, Suresh Kalmadi and B.S.Yeddyyurappa, there was not even a whisper about A.Raja’s resignation.

On the other hand, two obliging interviews of A.Raja were specially arranged to be done, not by the correspondent covering telecom, but shockingly by R.K.Radhakrishnan who used to cover matters relating to DMK. After A.Raja’s resignation and arrest, a change in stance reflecting a shameless and seamless U-turn is all too obvious even for a school kid to miss.

***

When media is used as a means to achieve private ends it undoubtedly becomes a calamity.

Primacy of editorial on which The Hindu has always prided itself has been sacrificed at the altar of vested interests and crass commercialism pushed by some directors who have scant regard for the legacy and larger calling and ideals of The Hindu.

Any claim of professionalisation in the appointment of Siddharth Varadarajan as Editor of The Hindu is a sham as professionally qualified and experienced family members on the editorial side — N.Ravi, Editor, Malini Parthasarathy, Executive Editor and Nirmala Lakshman, Joint Editor — have been selectively targeted for removal.

Double standards of the worst kind are at play.

The unfairness of it all is evident from the fact that some next generation family members, with little or no experience have been fast tracked into plum senior foreign postings with huge financial outgo, that normally only very senior journalists aspire to.

The so-called theory of separation of ownership from management was suddenly sprung only to vindictively and selectively target a few individuals. As stated earlier, N. Ram and K.Venugopal continue in their positions even as the so-called principle is not applicable to a few next generation family members and even as the business side directors continue in their positions for an indefinite period.

***

I am happy to recall that I stood vindicated by the Company Law Board order of December 22, 2010, which indicted the board faction that removed my responsibilities, as lacking in probity and good faith. I am thus stepping down with my head held high and with my self-respect and dignity intact.

I am also extremely happy and proud that I have been able to keep my word of honour, which unfortunately has not been the case with N. Ram who ought to have stepped down on May 4, 2010.

I am deeply pained that The Hindu that I grew up with and which I was proud to be an inseparable part of during the last four decades is not The Hindu that we see today. The Board faction that has perpetrated the gross injustice and vindictive acts must bear the cross for the current sorry state of affairs.

It has only succeeded in pushing The Hindu deep into an abyss. It requires the combined efforts of those sections of family members who are still yearning for its return to former glory and all its dedicated employees to pull the newspaper out of this abyss.

It is now time to bid adieu to all by wishing you the very best in your life and saying how fondly I cherish my long association with you. My thoughts will always be with everyone of you and your well being and with the great institution I am proud to have been an active part of.

Yours sincerely

N. Murali

*****

Coda

The journalistic career of Narasimhan Ram deserves a critical dissection. When I complete screening the documents in my collection (the unsigned editorials, signed opinion pieces, flip-flops in policy and fawning interviews with the Sri Lankan tyrants) I’ll present these at the earliest. I will never forgive him in deriding the Eelam campaign with derogatory epithets like ‘pipe dream’ and ‘Polpotist’ to curry favor with Colombo’s ruling tyrants.

*****