Posts Tagged ‘K. Balaji’

”The Hindu’ situation had become irremediable’

29 October 2013

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The “professional” editor may have been eased out by redesignating him; the services of the “professional” CEO may have been summarily terminated; and the front page of the paper may have returned to its past.

But The Hindu saga is not over yet.

After six board members on the 11-member board of Kasturi & Sons (K. Balaji, K. Venugopal, Ramesh Rangarajan, Lakshmi Srinath, Vijaya Arun and Akhila Vijay Iyengar) wrote to the other five against the removal of Siddharth Varadarajan and Arun Anant, the chairman of the board N. Ram has responded in kind through a seven-page response, with the operative paragraphs on pages 3 and 4.

“The discussions on the performance of Mr Siddharth Varadarajan as Editor of The Hindu was in fact a continuation of the discussions in the Board meeting held on August 20, 2013 as reflected clearly in the minutes of the meeting approved unanimously at the meeting on October 21, 2013. Not a single Director had any words of praise for or defence of his performance. Mr Siddharth Varadarajan had been informed in detail by me as Chairman of the previous meeting Board meeting of the view of the Board and some Directors had raised such issues with him periodically. Mr N. Murali, Mr. N. Ravi, Ms Malini Parthasarathy, and I referred to many instances of gross and continued violation of the binding Code of Editorial Values in terms of editorialising in the guise of news coverage, unfair and exaggerated reporting, banning or downplaying coverage of certain personalities with personal preference and prejudice, overriding professional news judgement, unsatisfactory coverage in the in main Chennai market, frequent absences from Chennai, and inadequate time and commitment to the overall task of editing the newspaper. Some of you wanted these issues address with Mr Siddharth Varadarajan. I pointed out that these issues had been taken up with him repeatedly to no effect and Mr. N Ravi expressed the view that the situation had become irremediable.

“Mr. K. Venugopal made the suggestion at the meeting that the Board should vote on reposing confidence in the then CEO and the erstwhile business and editorial arrangement. I then put the following resolution to vote: “Resolved that the present structure be retained”. Mr K. Venugopal declared that he was voting for his resolution and five others voted in favour. As rightly noted in your letter, six Directors opposed the resolution and the motion consequently failed in the absence of a sufficient majority. It was therefore evident that the erstwhile management structure had become untenable and the Company could not continue to repose trust and confidence in the then Editor and the then CEO. Of necessity and solely with a view to preventing the newspaper’s activities from coming to a grinding half, the managerial supervision of the business and editorial affairs of the Company had perforce to be reorganised.

“It was in this vacuum that I circulated the draft of a resolution of the new structure and allowed the Directors time to go through it before starting discussions on it. The main elements of the proposed structure had been discussed repeatedly in Board meetings as well as outside. Thereafter, discussions on the proposed structure followed with some Directors expressing support and others expressing opposition to it. When the draft resolution assigning that I, in my capacity as Chairman, out of necessity and in the interest of the Company, exercised my casting vote to approve the resolution. Failing this, not only would an unacceptable crisis have arisen in leadership but the very citadel of the newspaper built over more than a century would have been grievously threatened. Such a situation would certainly have been exploited by the Company’s competitors to the obvious disadvantage of the newspaper’s loyal readers. Consequently, the management of the Company who undoubtedly have tremendous experience and credentials in this regard….”

Also read: In family-owned paper, only furniture is fixed

The Hindu issue is more complex than you think’

Hindu‘ family chucks out ‘professional’ redesign

N. Ram to resign as The Hindu editor-in-chief

9 January 2012

After a long and bitter battle with his brothers and cousins, Narasimhan Ram, the editor-in-chief of The Hindu, has finally called it a day.

In a letter to the directors of Kasturi & Sons Limited (KSL), the holding company of the paper at 12.19 pm today, N. Ram, 66, has indicated that the time has finally come to go.

And that 19 January 2012 will be his final day as the helmsman.

***

Confidential

January 9, 2012

For the Board of Directors, Kasturi & Sons Ltd

In keeping with the relevant resolutions adopted by the board of directors and the shareholders of KSL on editorial succession, I have decided to step down from my position as Editor-in-Chief of The HinduBusiness Line, Frontline and Sportstar with effect from January 19, 2012.

In consequence, the Board may pass the necessary resolutions declaring, with effect from January 19, 2012, Siddharth Varadarajan, Editor, The Hindu, as the Editor of The Hindu (inclusive of the annual publications, The Hindu Survey Of Indian Industry; The Hindu Survey Of Indian Agriculture; and The Hindu Survey Of the Environment) responsible for selection of news under the PRB Act; D. Sampathkumar, Editor, Business Line as the Editor of Business Line responsible for selection of news under the PRB Act; R. Vijayasankar, Editor of Frontline, as the Editor of Frontline responsible for selection of news under the PRB Act; and Nirmal Shekar, Editor of Sportstar, as the Editor of Sportstar responsible for selection of news under the PRB Act.

I have also decided to step down, with effect from January 19, 2012, as publisher of The Hindu, Business Line, Frontline and Sportstar, and printer of our publications where applicable. In consequence, the board may pass the necessary resolutions declaring K. Balaji, managing director, KSL, as publisher of The Hindu, Business Line, Frontline and Sportstar, and also as printer of our publications where applicable, with effect from January 19, 2011 until we have in place a CEO who can take over as publisher of the above-mentioned publications and as printer as applicable….

I will continue as wholetime director of Kasturi & Sons Ltd.

I thank the board for giving me the opportunity to serve as editor-in-chief of our publications for eight years and also as publisher and printer as applicable.

N. Ram

Photograph: courtesy Mint

***

Also readWhy 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

The four great wars of N. Ram on The Hindu soil

N. Murali: The Hindu is run like a banana republic

Express declares ceasefire; brothers declare war

29 March 2010

The tussle between The Indian Express and The Hindu following the former’s reports (Part I and Part II) on the boardroom happenings in the latter has predictably and understandably gone cold after N. Ram‘s belligerent announcement of “criminal and civil defamation proceedings”.

Express bossman Shekhar Gupta is said to have instructed staff to go easy but the Hindu‘s editor-in-chief delivers a sucker punch by way of a tweet, on the Express‘s widely speculated motive/s for doing the stories.

However, the tussle within The Hindu boardroom—chiefly among three brothers—shows little signs of abating and two business papers, Mint owned by the Hindustan Times group and Business Standard, feast on it in today’s editions, even hinting that it could result in a corporate legal wrangle.

After telephone conversations with the two aggrieved brothers of N. Ram—managing director N. Murali who has been stripped of his powers and kicked upstairs as the senior managing director, and N. Ravi, who is smarting at not getting to be editor-in-chief had Ram retired in May 2010 as per a previously agreed plan—Mint lays out the three key issues facing the family-owned paper.

1) Retirement norms for family member-directors

2) Entry norms into the business for younger members of the family

3) Overall corporate governance issues

Ravi is quoted as saying that discussions on corporate governance norms had been going on for a couple of years now and that he, along with Murali, had prepared a document on it to be circulated among board members in the February 2010 meeting.

By far, though, the Business Standard story throws more light.

Murali is quoted as saying that he…

“…has been ‘singularly targeted, utterly humiliated and sought to be disempowered by being divested of all substantial powers and responsibilities’.”

BS also quotes Murali on record as saying that the proposal for retirement of directors on reaching the age of 65 was moved by him at a September 2009 meeting, as per which Ram as to have remited office this May, Murali next year, and Ravi in 2011.

However, Ram is quoted as saying there was no written record on retirement age.

In an accompanying story, the paper quotes an unnamed member of the board of Kasturi & Sons as saying that moving the company law board (CLB) over issues about running the group was an option.

It reveals that there was a concerted move within the board to confine Murali’s powers to circulation, till the opposition of other members resulted in his getting to share two other responsibilities (accounts and industrial relations) with newly appointed MD, K. Balaji, son of Ram’s mentor and former editor, G. Kasturi.

However, BS quotes Ram as saying that key decisions at the March 20 board meeting, which resulted in the news breaking into the open, were either taken by a majority of 9-3 or unanimously. (The third dissent vote is likely to have come from former executive editor Malini Parthasarathy who stands to lose the most.)

Ram also tells BS that Murali had been redesignated as senior managing director “with his consent at the board meeting” and that Balaji had been appointed MD “as part of succession planning, which has been actively advocated by Murali to his credit.”

However, the real juice is in the issue of the appointments of Generation Next: Nirmala Lakshman‘s son Narayan Lakshman as the new correspondent of The Hindu in Washington DC, and Ram’s daughter Vidya Ram as the European correspondent based in London for The Hindu Business Line.

According to this version of the BS story, available on rediff.com:

“Under central government rules, a decision to include a family member in the organisation with a remuneration of more than Rs 50,000 a month requires the clearance of the central government. There are charges that Lakshman and Vidya were sent to their locations before the clearances came.

“Lakshman was sanctioned $10,000 and Vidya 5,000 pounds as advances from the company. However the central government sent some queries to the company asking for details on the procedures followed or whether a selection committee was set up to appoint them.

“In order to reply to these questions a board resolution was initiated by Ram which was opposed by some members on the ground that he was an interested party.

“Ram has a different version. ‘The two appointments of relatives of directors have been done meticulously in accordance with the requirements of law: Approval by the board, approval by the shareholders, and central government approval. There was no violation of any kind.’

“He says it is elementary that advances for travel expenses on editorial or business assignments are completely different from remuneration or salaries, which are contingent on employment. ‘I declared an interest in my daughter’s appointment and did not participate in any matter in which I should not have.’

Meanwhile, the fracas within The Hindu has become easy meat for those wanting to get their fork (and knife) into the paper.

The security analyst, B. Raman, former additional secretary, in his widely emailed “thoughts for the day”, poses these questions:

(a) Has the time not come for greater transparency in The Hindu group?

(b) Has the time not come for the Government to introduce, in consultation with the media houses, a right to information act relating to media houses?

(c) Is it not in public interest  for the rest of the media to have a debate through their columns on the issues raised by the controversy between The Hindu and The Indian Express?

(d) Are the media houses and journalists holy cows beyond criticism or spotlight?

Raman makes one good point though.

The inadequate information over ownership and editorial control, which the current controversy highlights, he writes, results in…

“the reading public patronising the “Hindu” not being aware of the fact that a small group of members of the same family decide what should be reported to the public and what views and opinions should be disseminated through the columns of the paper. The reading public has difficulty in knowing who is a relative and who is an independent member of the staff capable of providing an objective point of view uninfluenced by the interests of the family.”

A pro-LTTE website also sees in the tussle the premature comeuppance of an editor who dragged The Hindu into adopting an anti-Tamil Eelam line.

Writes TamilNet.com:

“Ram’s Hindu played a major role in translating the desertion of “Colonel” Karuna from the LTTE into a politico-military machination beneficial to Colombo and New Delhi.

“Even after the war ended in Vanni, Ram’s continued support to genocidal Colombo and opposition to Tamil independence signify larger agenda, commented academic circles in Chennai. Some academics have now stopped writing in The Hindu.

“Ram was also accused of playing China’s agent in India by Tibetan organizations.”

Also read: Indian Express vs The Hindu. N. Ram vs N. Ravi

Not just about the brothers, it’s the children too

Now, it’s Malini Parthasarathy vs The Stalinists

Now, it’s Malini Parthasarathy vs ‘The Stalinists’

27 March 2010

In the great undivided Hindu family, the fiery former executive editor Malini Parthasarathy, is the odd woman out after the reassignment of familial duties.

And she lets it hang all out on her Twitter account.

The board of directors of Kasturi & Sons comprises the descendants of four cousins G. Narasimhan, S. Parthasarathy, S. Rangarajan, and G. Kasturi.

Narasimhan’s descendants are N. Ram, N. Murali and N. Ravi. Parthasarathy’s descendants are Malini Parthasarathy, Nirmala Lakshman and Nalini Krishnan. Rangarajan’s descendants are Ramesh Rangarajan, Vijaya Arun and Akila Iyengar. Kasturi’s descendants are K. Balaji, K. Venugopal, and Lakshmi Srinath.

Even a cursory glance at the resolutions of the March 20 board meeting shows that Malini’s sisters have been well taken care of. Nirmala’s son Narayan Lakshman has been posted to London Washington, DC. Nalini’s son Ananth Krishnan is in Beijing. What of Malini, whose removal along with N. Ravi, paved the way for N. Ram?

Not just about the brothers, it’s the children too

26 March 2010

Far from being cowed down by N. Ram‘s threat to sue for the “demonstrable falsehoods and defamatory assertions” in its report on “Ram’s role and actions in developments within the newspaper group and the company“, the Indian Express continues its coverage of the goings-on in the board room of the “Mount Road Mahavishnu” for the second day in a row.

For starters, Ram’s “decision” to sue to commence “civil and criminal defamatory proceedings” is a five-column story on the front page of  all 13 editions of The Hindu. Just what was precisely false or defamatory in the Express story is not something Ram’s statement points out, but it makes transparent the decisions, reassigning duties within the undivided Hindu family, taken by the board on March 20.

To the extent of conveying who is still in charge of The Hindu, and of sending a signal to employees and other interested parties, the statement leaves no room for doubt.

However, the phraseology of the statement indicates that it, if the case goes ahead (and Ram says on his Twitter feed that it will), it is likely that it will be personal battle of Ram and not of Kasturi & Sons, the holding company of the paper.

For its part, The Indian Express too carries Ram’s sue threat on page one, with as much prominence as it gave to the original report, but adds its own response:

“The report, ‘Battle for control breaks out in The Hindu very divided family’, (The Indian Express, The Financial Express, March 25, 2010) is based on information received from multiple and high-level credible sources.

“All facts were verified and cross-checked to the highest standards of accuracy and fairness that the Express Group holds itself to. We believe our report was neither malicious nor defamatory.

“We have great regard for The Hindu as an institution and for its editor-in-chief N. Ram as a journalist and editor for their commitment to principled journalism. We stand by our report and the reporter.”

In the process of defending itself, Express also makes public the purported transcript of the e-mail correspondence between reporter Archna Shukla and N. Ram before the story appeared.

However, The Indian Express doesn’t let matters rest at that.

On day two of its coverage, it quotes from an email sent by Ram’s aggrieved younger brother N. Murali (who has been kicked upstairs as “senior managing director”) to “colleagues”.

“At the Board meeting on 20th March, some directors subjected me to utter humiliation and attempted disempowerment. I will resist all attempts to deny me my rights, responsibilities and duties as the managing director,” Murali writes.

Murali has been stripped of his powers over the key departments of advertisements and purchase, and has now to share many of his duties (accounts, industrial relations) with newly appointed managing director K. Balaji, the well regarded son of former Hindu editor and Ram mentor, G. Kasturi.

More importantly, it is the letter written by Murali’s children Kanta and Krishna, along with youngest brother N. Ravi‘s daughter Aparna, quoted by Express on day two, that gives the clearest indication that this current round of the battle for control of 128-year-old Hindu is not just between M/s Ram, Murali and Ravi, but also about the generation that will inherit the paper from them.

“It is essential that the Board considers issues of corporate governance and the appointment of family members seriously,” write the three.

“To point out the obvious, the business cannot accommodate every member of the family, particularly when there are no institutional mechanisms in place to prevent the receipt of unjustifiably large entitlements over a long period of time.

“Each of us, whether in the previous, current or next generation, has received and continues to receive tremendous benefits from Kasturi and Sons, which far outweigh those received by non-family employees. It is high time that we recognize that our privileges are derived primarily from the contributions and loyalty of over 3500 non-family employees. Each one of us has, in some way or the other, abused their loyalty, trust and contribution.

“The inequitable and arbitrary system that currently exists is not only unfair to non-family employees but to shareholders as a class as well. If there is ever any intention of instituting sound and modern corporate governance practices and discontinuing the feudal system that exists, then issues such as the ones we have raised need to be addressed squarely, honestly and without fear or favour.”

Quite clearly, the recent appointment of children of various directors as foreign correspondents continues to rankle.

Ram’s daughter Vidya Ram (middle) was recently named as European correspondent of The Hindu‘s business paper Business LineNalini Krishnan‘s son Ananth Krishnan (right) replaced Pallavi Aiyar as The Hindu‘s Beijing correspondent; Nirmala Lakshman‘s son Narayan Lakshman (left) was hurriedly sent off as The Hindu‘s Washington correspondent filling a vacancy of nearly five years.

Speculation at The Hindu is that a couple of more “children” are also eyeing the exit sign at airports.

To be sure, both Ram and Ravi have done their stints as foreign correspondents, and sources say that one of the other directors (not N. Ram) was the prime mover behind the move to send Narayan Lakshman to Washington. So just what precisely the opposition to the recent appointments is, is unclear.

Express reporter Archna Shukla’s emailed questions to Ram mentions the “high very salaries” at which generation next had been hired which had apparently led to “unpleasantness among [board] members”. But in his reply Ram dismisses the complaint.

“To describe the relevant salaries as “very high” would be laughable; in fact, if the precise numbers were revealed, the salaries or renumerations would be characterised as “rather low”,” writes Ram.

While N. Ravi and Malini Parthasarathy have clamped up after their tweets yesterday, N. Ram continues to keep his 6,584 followers on Twitter posted with his version of the case.

He says he will do “exactly what I say”, which is sue The Indian Express for the “demonstrable falsehoods and defamatory assertions” in its report, and even leans back on the Bard to back himself:

# “Is it not a reasonable proposition that in any democratic organisation, an isolated few must necessarily respect the will of the majority?”

# “Shakespeare (Othello, iii,3) is often cited on defamation: ‘Who steals my purse steals trash. But he that filches from me my good name….'”

# “There can be no defence, in law or intelligent discourse, for these demonstrable falsehoods that defame recklessly.”

While most other family owned English papers—The Times of India, Deccan Herald, The Telegraph, et al—have understandably remained silent on the goings-on in South India’s largest English daily newspaper, only Mint, the business paper published by the listed HT Media, carries any mention of the Express-Hindu standoff.

New Indian Express editor Aditya Sinha‘s tweet on day one that Deccan Chronicle was rumoured to be working on a story turns out to be just that: a rumour. There is no story in the Hyderabad paper, which has an edition in Madras, at least not today.

Nevertheless, Sinha tweets:

There are various theories doing the rounds on why the Indian Express has taken on The Hindu so openly and so aggressively on what is clearly an internal matter of a family-owned newspaper.

# Is this a legitimate news story without a “backstory”, an honest journalistic attempt to throw light on the opaque goings-on in “public institutions”?

# Is this a proxy battle between the left and the right in Indian politics?

# Is this an attempt to pave the way for a more investor-friendly management which might be amenable to foreign investment?

For a couple of years now, there have been rumours that The Hindu was seeking infusion of funds to expand its footprint in the face of competition. Kalanidhi (and Dayanidhi) Maran‘s Sun TV group was mentioned initially. Later, the Fairfax group of Australia came into the picture.

But those in the know point out that the Express story is a post-facto account of the March 20 board meeting.

All indications are that wicket-keeper Narasimhan Ram, who played one first-class cricket match for Madras in the 1965-66 season, is on a strong wicket. For the moment.

The tone and display of his statement in the paper make that quite clear. Also, in the middle of the melee, word is that Ram found the time to fly to Delhi and sup with Bill Gates‘ wife, Melinda Gates, on Thursday night.

Moreover, although a board meeting is said to be around the corner, a couple of key board members (both women) are said to be conveniently away from Madras, strengthening Ram’s hands, if push comes to shove.

Newspaper image: courtesy The Indian Express

Photographs: courtesy Twitter

Also read: Under N. Ram, The Hindu becomes a ‘sorry’ paper

The Hindu responds to churumuri.com. We do too.

A surprising first at employee-friendly Hindu

The great grandmother of all newspaper battles

When a newspaper is no longer a newspaper

HAROLD EVANS: ‘Families are the best custodians of newspapers’

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