‘The Hindu’ is being run like a ‘banana republic’

N. Murali, the managing director of The Hindu, has retired. Below is the full text of his farewell letter to employees of the paper, in which he minces no words in describing the current phase of the paper, under the current editor-in-chief N. Ram, as a blot, second only to that during the Emergency under Ram’s mentor and their uncle, G. Kasturi.

***

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 echeleons.

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 it’s 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

***

Also read: Why N. Ravi quit The Hindu after 20 years as editor

Nirmala Lakshman: I didn’t step down; I resigned

Malini Parthasarathy quits as Hindu‘s executive editor

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17 Responses to “‘The Hindu’ is being run like a ‘banana republic’”

  1. T Azeez Luthfullah Says:

    why Mr Murali is silent on the return of Praveen Swamy? The lies, white lies and stories rolled out by Praveen Swamy regarding terrorism maligning the Muslims could not be brushed aside. It is also a blot in the history of The Hindu

  2. Not A Witty Nick Says:

    T Azeez Luthfullah,

    [Citation Needed]

    Discountable if you are a Diggy’s follower and think that all acts of terror are perpetrated by Hindu Terror groups.

  3. kaangeya Says:

    The Hindu is on weakened legs headed by a power drunk hypocrite and poseur of the first order. It has alienated every section of its readership. The core – the Iyer crowd has switched over to the Deccan Chronicle or The New Indian Express. The Iyengar crowd is struggling to make sense of a supposedly Hindu newspaper that heaps filth and abuse on its cherished ideals. The non-brahmin readership which makes up the professional and entrepreneurial cream of the readership is moving towards ToI, as are the youth who have no loyalty at all. Hidden in plain sight is the Tamil language press, which like its Indian language counterparts elsewhere in India has for over 15 years outpaced and overtaken The Hindu and other English publications. As for the tech savvy readership, blogs and self-generated internet media provide what The Hindu tries to obfuscate and misreport. This is a perfect multi-fecta for the paper. Ram and his cronies (SidV included) can preside over a rotting hulk for the all the world cares.

    Azeez,
    Praveen Swamy has a nasty habit of speaking the truth, and that is often bitter, if not unpalatable. So instead of rationalizing the events he reports on get a grip on yourself and learn to accept the truth. A good newspaper cannot be expected comfort the afflicted. However Mencken would have it, it must afflict the comfortable. Praveen Swamy does a good job of shaking denialists like you out of their torpor.

  4. zen Says:

    Both A.Raja’s and Mahinda Rajapaksha’s interviews struck me then as leaning towards their respective sides, without asking tough questions or being prepared with good investigation.

    @Azeez, if you think everything Praveen Swamy has written about terrorism is BS, then you’re living in a fantasy world where religious extremism does not exist.

  5. Goldstar Says:

    Who was the person Ram was supposed to talk to (with reference to S.Gurumurthy’s email)?

  6. Mahesh Vijapurkar Says:

    kaangeya: You said The Hindu was “supposedly a Hindu newspaper”. It is not. When the name was chosen in the distant past, it had no theological import. It meant Indian as opposed to the imperial powers.

    The pronunciation is with a hard D, not ‘dhu’ – it can be checked by calling up the switchboard number of the headquarters of the newspaper in Chennai. It is perhaps the relic of the Raj era.

  7. K Vijayachandran Says:

    English language newspapers, as a rule, cater to the tastes and interests of our English speaking elites classes. Hindu of today is an exemption to the rule: of late it has started reporting on the views of the left parties. This shift in editorial orientation must have alienated sections among its traditional readership. This loss, possibly, is being compensated by new sections among the English speaking, elites who would like to look at the world from a more healthy and wholesome perspective. History has not ended as predicted by many on the fall of Soviet Union and ideological political debates continue to hold large market possibilities!!

  8. Raghavendran Says:

    I really dont feel any sympathy towards The Hindu and N.Ram. Dravidian movement in TN used many ways to target hindus and hinduism in particular brahmins. Some of the brainwashed kids of Dravidian movements were N.Ram and Kamalhasan. N.Ram used The Hindu as a weapon against hinduism while at least one of the scene in Kamal movies were against Hindu rituals and brahmins. ‘The Hindu’ later was termed as The Great China post due to its extreme left attitude. Hope this bad ship sinks at the earliest.

  9. santhanam (@sanvai) Says:

    That Ram is hypocrite is known! Now that conservatives are out, getting retired, what is going to be future of “THE HINDU”?

  10. sanjeeva Says:

    The Hindu was already on its decline sometime from 1995 onwards. The decline became steep and faster with N.Ram becoming the chief.

  11. Law of Omerta Says:

    After 40 years this guy has realised that Hindu is a banana republic. Why did it take so long for him to speak out.

    By writing this kind of a rediculous letter N. Murali has done more to expose his own incompetence than that of the Hindu.

    For 40 years, he earned his bread and butter through that newspaper and at the time of retiring he is trying to insult all his ex-colleagues.

    Hats off to this guy. Perhaps in another 40 years he will remember some other wrongs. Hope he lives for another 40 years to write another letter.

    This is perhaps the best scoop that N. Murali has written in all his life.

  12. K Vijayachandran Says:

    Epithets used against Ram as well as the numerous comments made clearly indicates a clear ideological divide among the readers.

  13. Simple Says:

    Journalists who keep sermonising about everybody and everything in the world are not beyond petty ego clashes, factionalism, vindictiveness, partiality, prejudice and wrong doing.

    N Ram, N Murali – all of you are all wittingly or unwittingly caught with your knickers down. Your warts are hanging out in full public view.

    Can anybody take your newspaper seriously now?

  14. Dravidan Says:

    On reading Mr. Murali’s letter, one gets the impression that the paper became a banana republic in the last 18 months. How illogical is he in saying this.
    His complaint about ‘Murdochism’ is absurd. The Hindu is perhaps the only paper in the country that gives considerable space to development issues. On issues such as reservation, gender discrimination, globalisation, it has taken a clear and consistent stand, thanks to its present Editor-in-Chief. Pl read The Hindu’s editorials to understand this fact. Accusing The Hindu under Ram of being Murdochised only betrays Murali’s ignorance. Moreover, under his stewardship also commercialisation was very much evident. This element of commercialisation is necessary for a newspaper’s economic survival. Will Murali explain when exactly commercialisation entered the phase of Murdochisations. In the last 18 months? Ridiculous.
    Taking a political stand is portrayed as an anti-national and anti-journalistic act. The Hindu itself was in the forefront of the freedom struggle, which means that it took a clear political stand against British imperialism. In post-independence India, if a newspaper gives voice for the ideals for which the freedom struggle was launched. If you read any newspaper, you can understand its political bias. There is no neutral newspaper because there can be no neutrality in politics and ideology.

  15. Raj Says:

    In the 125th year anniversary supplement of THE HINDU in 2003 , I remember to have read an article by historian S.Muthaiah that during the emergency , G.Kasturi and his brother [ Late ] Mr.G.Narasimhan
    [ father of Murali , Ravi and Ram ] had decided to toe the the Indira Gandhi government line due to sheer business interests .This was admitted frankly by G.Kasturi . The role of THE HINDU as well as other major english dailies during emergency have come under adverse comments in the last 30 years and more in many articles in the press. There is nothing new in Murali mentioning now only about what his uncle did during emergency regime of the Indiara Gandhi govt .
    Murali talks as if he is the paragon of all virtues. In that board meeting in the last week of June 2003 , Ravi and Malini were sacked by the majority directors when Ram became the most powerful editor in chief of THE HINDU only with the support of Murali , Nirmala , Nalini etc among others .
    In April 2010 , Murali got the sack as managing director but kicked up as senior mg. director with out the earlier powers . For this Ram got the support of Nalini and Nirmala just because their sons , Narayan and Ananth Krishnan got the coveted postings in Washington and Beijing just before that as reported in blogs .
    Then the clever Ram sacked Nirmala , Malini and Ravi from all editorial positions just because he was not allowed the freedom to bring in the changes he wanted to usher in as Chairman of KASTURI AND SONS LTD on the pretext of retirement at 65 years .
    Due to sheer ego problems than any thing else, the minority share holders were blocking all steps taken by N.Ram and they poured dirty linen in leaked mails and in public .
    Readers also are not fools . They tolerate Ram’s pro Srilanka , pro China , pro dmk line in the papers by simply ignoring them for he also gives good news coverage otherwise .
    When Ravi was editor , he was managing the show by sitting in an ivory tower or so it appeared .
    There was no co ordination among various depts. As insiders then said who were then happy at the sacking of Ravi and Malini .
    During his 40 years regime , Murali never acted or took any steps to spread the wings of THE HINDU in other geographical regions . He was just satisfied with the stagnant growth of THE HINDU like ‘ CHALTI KA NAAM GAADI ‘ in the excisting markets .
    His initiative in marketing THE HINDU in other regions was nil though there is a demand for the paper in other regions . With skeleton staff , the Calcutta edition is run .
    The minority shareholders also may have their rights under company laws. But all these problems ought to have been sorted out among themselves with in 4 walls of the room .
    Now their cock fight is among the hot topics in the news rooms all over the world .
    The readers and well wishers of The Hindu can only prey that better sense dawns on all those concerned in the KASTURI AND SONS LTD and THE HINDU is allowed to grow further . They should not suffocate the readers with their fight which will diminish the quality of the contents , printing etc .
    The Hindu is not the only newspapers having a large no of directors and share holders from a single family . There are other newspaper groups in Kerala , Karnataka , UP , MP , Tamil nadu and other states with large no of share holders . Some of them too have gone to company law board but some how amicably settled their matters .
    The Hindu directors also should settle their differences at least now or the best way is for the aggrieved group of directors to come out and launch their own paper .

  16. vijay Says:

    The problem at present in THE HINDU is due to too many seniors in the KASTURI family are – waiting in the wings to become EDITOR – IN – CHIEF – one after the other and inscribe their names for posterity in the HINDU roll call of editors .
    Like the saying ‘’ Too many cooks spoil the brodth,’’ , with too many professionally well qualified editors in the family with an equal number from next generation of the family waiting already or on the threshold of joining the ranks , the ego clash and other family petty politics are bound to crop up . Already 5th or 6th generation from the family have come to the front line to manage the Hindu and in the following years , the infighting is only bound to increase .

    N.Ram , under these circumstances did the correct thing to plan for bringing in outside professionals to manage the hindu group . Now he has only brought in a new editor for THE HINDU . But FRONTLINE , BUSINESS LINE , Sportstar also need a complete revamp under an individual editors .

    N.Ram should also initiate steps to launch language dailies beginning with Tamil as the future for newspapers in INDIA is in regional langusges only . Incidently , The Hindu is the only major english daily in the entire ASIA / SE ASIA not to have a regional language daily .
    Since independence , when the TIMES OF INDIA group came under Indian management , they are hiring editors and managers from outside the family only at regular intervals .The results are there for all to see .
    Till 1970s there was only one GENERAL MANAGER controlling TIMES OF INDIA with editions at Bombay , Delhi and Ahmedabad . When the next generation of owners like Samir Jain and his brother took over , entirely a new set of ideas cropped up and consequently different managers , editors slowly came into the picture which resulted in TOI spreading its wings all over INDIA and even planning overseas ventures beginning with the yet to be launched Dubai edition . TOI GROUP grew at rapid rate only due to these various managers who were reporting to the owners who were silently driving them from behind giving them a free hand with set targets to achieve.
    Other newspaper groups in India are emulating the TOI way to grow . Dainik jagran , Dainil Bhaskar , Rajasthan Patrica , HT media groups are some of the examples .
    So far what N.Ram has done seems to be in right direction .Let him be a communist or a pro China guy . What matters is THE HINDU should be allowed to grow with its high quality standards and unbiased reporting . N.Ram lacks credibility only with his biased repoting on some occasions . If he becomes neutral for THE HINDU sake , keeping aside his personal communist views aside , every thing will be ok .

  17. SB Says:

    “…keeping aside his personal communist views aside”

    Really ?

    Too much to expect from any Commie …

    These people will whitewash the butcher of innocents as long as it doesn’t fit into their party ideology.

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