The controversial changes approved earlier this week by the board of The Hindu group of publications are meant to prepare the organisation for the future, said N Ram, editor-in-chief of the group’s flagship daily.
The changes, as reported in this newspaper yesterday, have led to strong charges being traded publicly between members of the family which runs the group, notably between Ram and his sibling, N Ravi, presently editor of the daily. Ram and six others on the 12-member board of directors of the holding company have voted for changes that would strip five members of the family of their present editorial responsibilities.
The changes include replacing Ravi with the head of its news bureau here, Siddharth Varadarajan, as editor of The Hindu.
Defending the decision at a press conference, Ram said there was a realisation that ownership had to be separated from the management of the newspaper. Ram also defended an interview of former telecom minister A Raja, now in jail, carried by the newspaper. It had evoked sharp criticism from Ravi, who said this was no different from paid news, as Raja’s ministry had hurriedly okayed a full-page advertisement in return for an interview to clear the minister’s name.
Ram noted The Hindu was not the only paper that got a full-page telecom ministry advertisement on the day the interview was published. Fourteen other newspapers were given the same advertisement.
Through his press conference, Ram avoided naming Ravi. But he frequently took digs at him. He also said the family members currently in editorial positions would, after stepping down, form an editorial board. “But it will be purely advisory in nature. If the new editor wants any suggestion, our experience will be available. But I want to make it clear there will be no back-seat driving,” he said.
When asked, why the decision to appoint a professional from outside the family as an editor was taken only now, Ram said “Earlier the world was different and we carried on”. He said the organisation had been thinking about this change for two years. Citing the practice at top national and international newspapers, Ram said, “We had appointed consultants ( McKinsey) and they, too, suggested that if we did not make this separation, things would become very difficult. In order to prepare for the future, we have to separate ownership and management.”
However, Ram did not reveal any plan for the appointment of a CEO to look after the business arm of the newspaper.
Ravi maintained the decision to appoint Varadarajan as editor was a “shocking display of bad faith”, as he (Ravi) was to take over as editor-in-chief after Ram’s retirement, which was to have happened on May 4, 2010. Ram, however, said the Company Law Board had refused to intervene in this issue, adding: “I don’t think any court of law will interfere in appointment of editor of a newspaper. That would be contrary to Article 19 of our Constitution.”
“Some political parties may keep its top post reserved for family members. But the Kasturi family can’t be a editor-producing family,” Ram said.
Ravi had alleged a quid pro quo on the Raja interview. “Very recently, those of us who were not privy to deal-making learnt to our shock that a major interview with A Raja in defence of the telecom licensing policy published on May 22, 2010, involved a direct quid pro quo in the form of a full page, colour advertisement from the telecom ministry that was specially and hurriedly cleared by the minister personally for publication on the same day in The Hindu. The contrast between such a deed and pious editorial declarations, including the campaign against paid news, cannot be starker,” Ravi had written in a letter to The Hindu employees.
Ram on Friday said it was a ‘scoop’ for the paper, as others were also trying to get the interview. Adding, “As the editor in chief, I am not aware of the contents of the advertisements. I did not know about this advertisement which was also published in 14 other papers.”
On Ravi saying the newspaper had “turned into an apologist for A Raja through the 2G scam coverage, remaining deafeningly silent on his resignation in the face of mounting evidence”, Ram on Friday said, “It is a matter of editorial judgement. In The Hindu, we are very careful about asking for resignations of politicians or others. We didn’t demand the Prime Minister’s resignation. If the person (Ravi) now asks for an editorial line seeking the PM’s resignation, he will be laughed out of the editorial meeting.”
Adding: “I think journalism is a discipline of verification. People could have just done a little research to find out how many papers had got that advertisement.” He also said the interview was not a “fixed match”, as Raja was asked all the right questions.