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Hindu family feud over succession spills over

Malafide action masquerading as ‘professionalisation’,says Ravi; allegations motivated by greed,says Ram

Written by Archna Shukla | New Delhi |
April 23, 2011 1:31:25 am

The feud among the members of Kasturi & Sons over editorial control of its group publications,including The Hindu and The Hindu Business Line,intensified on Friday with the warring factions making fresh allegations against each other.

Responding to the allegations by Editor N Ravi,including that of a quid pro quo with former telecom minister A Raja-publisher and the Editor-in-Chief of The Hindu Group of Publications, N Ram said his opponents were motivated by the greed to gain control and their accusations were baseless. “The allegations are not only false,defamatory but egregiously defamatory,” he said at a press conference in New Delhi.

Meanwhile,Ravi issued a fresh note from Chennai which termed the proposed editorial succession process as “malafide and arbitrary action by a group of directors masquerading as virtuous professionalisation and restructuring.” He also sought the reconstitution of the board with independent,outside directors before any long-term decision regarding the restructuring of the company and its editorial operations was taken.

The latest wrangle follows a board meeting on April 18 in which a proposal on editorial succession of the group publications was put up. Editorial succession,in fact,has been at the core of the long-standing infighting in the media company.

A group of board members and shareholders of the company — all of them part of the extended family of founder Kasturi Ranga Iyengar — have for long been asking Ram to step down from his current position. After having failed to get a commitment from him,a section of the board,including his two brothers Ravi and N Murali,dragged him to the Company Law Board (CLB) last year.

While refusing to interfere on the issue,the CLB,in an order on December 22,2010,asked the company to devise a succession plan.

In his press conference on Friday,Ram claimed that the proposal to separate ownership from management was made in keeping with the CLB order.

In the April 18 meeting,it was proposed that as the beginning of this process,all family editorial directors,including Ram,Ravi,Malini Parthasarathy,Executive Editor of The Hindu,Nirmala Lakshman,Joint Editor of The Hindu,and K Venugopal,Joint Editor,Hindu Business Line,will step down from their official positions. Siddharth Varadarajan,the current National Bureau Chief of The Hindu,will be appointed the Editor of the paper and later authorised to build his own editorial team.

It was also proposed that the current board members would become part of an Editorial Board,which will advise the professional editors without interfering in the day-to-day operations.

Ravi and his supporters,however,are opposing the move. Ravi alleged that in the garb of “professionalising” the operations,Ram was trying to stall the chances of any of his opponents getting the reins of the publications after he steps down. “After the CLB order,it has become difficult for Ram to continue in his current position. But before stepping down,he is trying to make sure he doesn’t have to pass on the reins into the hands of other family members,” Ravi told The Indian Express.

In the note on Friday,he said: “It is not as if the board of directors has debated long and hard and come to a considered decision on the change in the structure of the newspaper or the governance policy of the company. Ram and his group have,in fact,been resisting all attempts to introduce modern corporate governance norms and restructure the company as suggested by some of us four years ago.”

In his letter to his colleagues at The Hindu on April 20,Ravi made serious allegations about the editorial practices of the group. He alleged The Hindu was deliberately soft on the coverage of 2G scam and it also carried an interview with A Raja on May 22,2010,the day the paper was given a full-page colour advertisement by the Telecom Ministry.

Ram on Friday gave reporters at the press conference a list of 15 newspapers that published the same advertisement on the same day. “Our coverage of the 2G scam was unbiased and most professional,” he said.

Describing the allegations as motivated by the greed to grab power,Ram also said a “clear majority of board members” have agreed to the proposal of editorial succession and they would go ahead with it in the board’s proposed meeting on May 20.

The other faction,however,seems determined to oppose the move. In a message on the micro-blogging web site Twitter,Parthasarathy,supporting Ravi,said: “A wafer-thin majority cannot hustle substantive change in an organisation”.

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