Ranjona Banerji: Flip-flop take ‘Hindu’ back in time

22 Oct,2013

By Ranjona Banerji


One more shake-up at The Hindu has the media a bit, well, shook up. Overturning what was a controversial decision two years ago, the Hindu board has now removed Siddharth Varadarajan as editor of the paper and Arun Anant as CEO. Interestingly, it was N Ram who fought with his brothers and sisters and the board and bulldozed his way to make sure Varadarajan got the job and The Hindu its first professional (non-family) editor in 50 years. And now it is N Ram who has sacked Varadarajan, a very well-respected journalist.


The allegations against Varadarajan tilt on the bizarre side: that he had diverged from the “core values” of the paper, that there was “editorialisation in the guise of news and manipulation of news coverage.” Anant has been accused of ruining industrial relations and of having a “communal” approach at times. There are hints that a PIL filed by Subramaniam Swamy over Varadarajan’s US citizenship may have had some role to play here – it comes up for hearing this week.


Also strange is the fact the six board members have opposed this move by N Ram to remove Varadarajan. When Varadarajan was appointed in 2011, the board had been against all the moves by Ram to professionalise the editorship of The Hindu. Ram had referenced other family-owned groups like The Times of India at the time, where family members do not hold controlling editorial posts.


In many ways, this new flip-flop takes The Hindu back in time. For what it’s worth, The Hindu has been a very respected newspaper in India and the world and is looked by many to be a sort of gold standard for its fair investigations and its Constitutional stance and the fact that it did not appear to bow down to corporate interests. But the family saga which keeps playing out in the background means that every professional journalist and potential CEO will be even more wary about taking up an offer from The Hindu.


Varadarajan, rather than accepting being kept on as a contributing editor and “senior columnist” resigned immediately, making the announcement on twitter – as seems to be the norm these days. His tweet which was put up at 5.28 pm on October 21 says, “With The Hindu’s owners deciding to revert to being a family run and edited newspaper, I am resigning from The Hindu with immediate effect.”


All those who resigned when Varadarajan was appointed in 2011 are now back – N Ravi, Malini Parthasarathy and Nirmala Lakshman – at the top as is N Ram.


The obvious implication is that the family could not bear to be away from the editorial decisions of their newspaper and have therefore buried their differences – however bitter they may have been. It also may mean that the somewhat more contemporary feel of The Hindu will now revert to its early fuddy-duddy days.


Anant, the former CEO, has been accused of forcing permanent employees towards the contract system and this could well have been a major thorn for the board. The Hindu is well known for allowing people to stay in positions until eternity regardless of ability – a strategy most other newspapers have long since abandoned. Although heartening for employees ensured of permanent employment disconnected with their output and a welcome change from the new hire and fire policies rampant elsewhere, it is also true that running a professional newspaper with excessive deadwood can be counterproductive if not impossible.


Whatever the reasons for these changes, both journalism and professionalism undoubtedly take a bit of a beating when a much-admired newspaper like The Hindu falls back in time.


Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator based in Mumbai. She is also Contributing Editor, MxMIndia. She can be reached via Twitter at @ranjona. The views here are her own


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2 responses to “Ranjona Banerji: Flip-flop take ‘Hindu’ back in time”

  1. Victor says:

    It remains to be seen who wins in the next round of musical
    chair for editorship . The democles sword will be hanging for ever from now on
    the head of who ever is the editor of the day . It depends on the whims and
    fancies of N.Ram , N,Ravi , N.Murali and Malini among the directors cum editors
    . Too many cooks spoil the broth , they say .The Hindu is a solid example .
    N.Murali said a few months back that HINDU WAS BEING run as Banana republic .
    Now the same Murali and Ram are on the same boat . Rules like 65 years age
    limit are made and broken by them to suit their convenience . In any case
    Malini also will reach 65 years in the next few years and with no family member
    capable of editor ship , THE HINDU has to fall back on professional editors /
    managers ultimately . Who will take that responsibility at that time ? Already
    Deccan chronicle is in a financial mess in Hyd . Deccan Herald has lost the
    crown in Bangalore .The Telegraph in Calcutta is facing the heat . Now it is a
    matter of time TOI bull dozes Madras market as a very good opportunity of
    turmoil in HINDU making it a sitting duck . With Murali taking control of
    business side and Ravi as editor , it is a foregone conclusion of dooms day a
    head for THE HINDU . They are not aggressive to take on TOI in any market .
    Siddharth and Arun were making honest efforts to increase the markets in all
    Indian territories . In Bangalore and Hyd markets , it was showing good results
    . What an irony . Only a few days back The Hindu in Bangalore had a party on
    the success of their recent circulation drive . Murali is not capable of
    acheiving this success.

  2. Victor says:

    The proof of the pudding is in the eating .Todasy’s TOI carries this news prominently – under TIMES NATION page on what N.Murali said in the interview to Business standard yesterday .It says N.Murali has admitted in the interview that The Hindu has lost a major part of advertising and readership in Madras / TN to TOI which has gained a lot of market share .

    Even a novice in a junior level position would not have uttered such nonsense publicly even if the ground is lost .

    As per LATEST AND LAST IRS Q4 2012 , The Hindu is still far ahead of TOI , NIE and DC in Madras / TN market . It is not with out any reason that N.Ram kicked Murali , ” a frog in the well ” – so to say ” – with 40 years experience in THE HINDU only – up by making him a dummy as senior MD with actual powers given to K.Balaji who is well qualified in production , quality control of newspapers .

    Now admitting wrongly that TOI has grabbed a lot of advts and readership from Hindu , he has scored same side goal once more . This alone clearly shows that he is unfit to any position on business side .

    It is only a matter of time before TOI tom toms Murali’s foolish utterances in every mode of advertising and grab the TN market also with out any effort .

    Siddarth has made THE HINDU readable and there is no denying this fact . He was having a grand plan for Hindu’s expansion in other teritories and other languages . His fate was sealed by one single casting vote in the board meeting to the surprice of not only SV but every one . It is the foregone conclusion the same fate awaits N.Ravi , Murali , Malini and Ram himself in some other board meetings very sooner than later because every one in KSL board survives on the casting vote only now .

    All these years , Murali on business side made no effort worth mentioning to increase market share in other teritories . It was Arun and Siddarth whose aggressive circulation drive has started yielding results .

    Now , these people will take the credit for that .

    The Kasturi family should keep their infighting between themselves inside their 4 walls and not spoil the cariers of professional managers and editors in THE HINDU .

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