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N Ram effects top-level changes at The Hindu,editor Siddharth Varadarajan quits

Varadarajan was re-designated as the contributing editor and senior columnist at the daily.

Written by Surabhi | New Delhi |
October 22, 2013 5:36:33 am

Accusing former editor Siddharth Varadarajan and chief executive officer Arun Anant of diverging from the “core values” of The Hindu,N Ram,chairman of Kasturi & Sons Ltd (KSL) and publisher of The Hindu and group publications,on Monday effected top-level changes at the 135-year old English daily. After a stormy board meeting,Varadarajan was re-designated as the contributing editor and senior columnist at the daily while Anant was removed from his post as the chief executive officer of KSL. Later in the day,Varadarajan posted the news of his resignation on Twitter: “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.” Anant’s exact position,according to a statement issued by the company,will be determined by the 12-member board later.

Following the changes,N Ravi has taken over as editor-in-chief of The Hindu and Malini Parthasarathy,who is the director of The Hindu Centre for Politics and Public Policy,has been appointed Editor. Effectively The Hindu has now returned to being a family-run newspaper.

Though all directors of the board admitted to “problems” under the leadership of  Varadarajan and Anant,Ram said they did oppose the decision. “I,along with my brother N Murali,am the principal author of the change based on our close observation of the wrong turn of events at The Hindu,” Ram told The Indian Express.

The six directors who opposed the move,including K Venugopal and K Balaji,issued a statement declaring N. Ram’s “casting vote invalid” and that they would “contest the decision through an appropriate mechanism.”

The newspaper also posted the announcement on its website. “Arun Anant is no longer the CEO of Kasturi & Sons Limited,the company that owns and publishes The Hindu Group of publications. Siddharth Varadarajan,who was made Contributing Editor and Senior Columnist,The Hindu,has submitted his resignation.”

“The whole effort is to restore employee morale,good industrial relations,and the trust of this newspaper’s more than two million readers,” said the statement from Ram.

The statement further added,“The 135-year-old institution reaffirms its commitment to its core editorial and business values,and excellence in journalism,” adding that the existing editorial arrangements for  Business Line,Frontline,Sportstar,and The Hindu (Tamil) will continue unchanged.

Further,K Balaji was appointed as managing director in charge of production and business strategy but has refused to accept the post. Among the other changes,Nirmala Lakshman has been assigned as director with oversight of literature,arts and culture section.

The Board also decided to allocate specific responsibilities to other Directors but The Hindu has,at present,decided not to go in for a new CEO and will instead have a “mix of directors with experience”. Along with Ram,who is the chairman of KSL,Murali will be the co-chairman. “We will not have a hands-on role,” Ram clarified.

Elaborating on his decision,Ram said there was recurrent violation and defiance of the code of editorial values of The Hindu under Varadarajan’s leadership. “There was editorialisation in the guise of news and manipulation of news coverage,” he said,while declining to give specific instances. Varadarajan’s tenure also saw “loaded items on politicians” and “pieces that should have appeared in the edit pages and not as news stories”.

Ram also charged Anant for recurrent violation and defiance of the values of the institution and lack of respect of employees,including a communal approach at times. “Industrial relations were ruined in the short period of time by the CEO and his team. We will do our best to improve this area,” Ram said,adding that he along with Murali also met the union representatives on Monday. Pointing to instances of mis-management of employees,Ram said that Anant used coercion to migrate permanent employees to the contract system. “There was use of threats and fear,” he said.

Anant,who was the first CEO of the company,did not respond to calls and text messages. Responding to the allegations,Varadarajan told The Indian Express that,“If indeed policies or editorial values were flouted,the solution would have been to get another professional editor. The fact that the owners have come back into editorial itself provides the answer to your question.” In an e-mail response,he added: “Of course,there were occasional instances of editorialising that slipped in,just as they did when Mr. Ram or Mr Ravi edited The Hindu earlier. But I fear this is merely an excuse to reverse the earlier decision to professionalise the newspaper.

Under me,The Hindu became more feisty and readable than before,had better local coverage in the cities it publishes from than before,regularly broke major stories and investigations,fearlessly took on powerful corporate interests that the rest of the media chose to ignore,refused to mindlessly join media bandwagons whether on Modi or Pakistan or dumbing down of news,ran powerful,trend-setting national and international reportage and had emerged as a major trendsetter in the public sphere.” Malini Parthasarthy did not respond to an e-mail and a text message on the changes at the helm.

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The turn of events come less than two and a half years after Varadarajan took over in mid-2011 and was the first editor of the paper in nearly five decades who did not belong to the Kasturi family. Significantly,his appointment was challenged by BJP leader Subramanian Swamy who filed a petition in the Delhi High Court contending Varadarajan’s ineligibility for the job as he is US citizen.

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