N. Murali, the managing director of The Hindu, has retired after a 40-year career in the Madras-based, family owned newspaper.
Below is the full text of his farewell letter to employees of the paper, in which he minces no words in describing the current phase of the paper, under the current editor-in-chief N. Ram, as a blot, second only to that during the Emergency under Ram’s mentor and uncle, G. Kasturi.
10 August 2011
Sub: Farewell communication
As the curtain comes down on my forty-year-old career at this institution, it is time to thank you from the bottom of my heart for all the affection, support and goodwill extended to me.
Our committed and loyal employees are our 132-year newspaper’s most valuable assets. They have stood by the institution through all the ups and downs, taking immense pride in a newspaper that over a century has become a way of life with successive generations of loyal readers.
The Hindu has acquired the status of a public trust in which tens of thousands of its readers have placed their utmost faith, looking up to it as a moral force against wrong doing and an authentic voice of reason, objectivity, truth and fairness.
These are the core values on which The Hindu was founded and which constitute the kernel of its soul and philosophy.
Looking back over the last 40 years that I have been fortunate and privileged to have served this great institution, it is indeed heartening to see our iconic newspaper and the organization grow from strength to strength, while maintaining the unwavering trust and loyalty of its employees and its readers.
My long career has been one of satisfaction and fulfillment but has also seen extremely challenging times with some ups and downs.
I have always stayed focused and brought a lot of intensity and passion to my job.
I have pursued unwaveringly what I strongly believed in and stayed true to my core values and beliefs and core competency.
I always strove to pursue ethical business practices.
I consider myself extremely fortunate to have been an integral part of the impressive growth and development story of The Hindu during these decades along with its dedicated employees.
In accordance with my intention to retire from any active role that I communicated to all the directors on September 25, 2009, I have now formally communicated to the directors of honouring that word when I complete 65 years of age on August 11, 2011.
While it sums up my feelings of the horrible happenings in our institution for the past eighteen months, I owe it to all of you to take you into confidence and elaborate on them in this farewell communication.
I strongly believe that as a matter of good corporate governance there should be institutional mechanisms and norms like entry norms, qualifications, career progression and retirement norms, applicable to all shareholding family members in this organization just as all other employees are subjected to these rules and norms.
When I had proposed 65 as the age of retirement for a Director from any active role, it was with a view to ensuring a smooth succession at the top leadership of the company and of the newspaper while giving professionally qualified younger family members an opportunity to move to the top most echeleons.
That suggestion was accepted by all concerned including the Editor-in-Chief who convened an informal meeting of all the five editorial directors on the same day i.e., 25 September 2009. An editorial succession plan was also agreed upon as follows: N. Ram to step down from any active role on May 4, 2010 and N. Ravi who had been the Editor between 1991-2003 would take over as Editor-in-Chief; Malini Parthasarathy would become Editor of The Hindu, Nirmala Lakshman would become Editor of the Sunday Magazine, features and Frontline, and K.Venugopal, the Editor of Businessline.
Ram confirmed his commitment to retire and also this succession plan to me not once but twice shortly after. When everyone took his word at face value and in good faith, in the month of February 2010, he reneged on his commitment to retire to my utter shock and dismay.
That act of breach of faith triggered a whole series of unsavoury events which have taken an ugly turn and which are all now in the public domain.
In these 18 months matters have reached a very low point indeed—with a brazen and crude display of factionalism, opportunistic and vote-bank politics, quid-pro-quo deals, bad faith, vindictive acts, selective targeting of individuals and pursuing personal agendas by some board members all combining into a messy ‘slugfest’ among the Board members.
There is no question that these anti-institution actions by a coterie of the Board have seriously eroded the quality, reputation and credibility of The Hindu and have also severely impaired the competitive ability and profitability of the whole enterprise.
It is indeed unfortunate that editorial primacy has been sacrificed at the altar of excessive commercialism and vested interests to pander to the wishes of some of the directors who have a crass disregard of the values The Hindu has always stood for.
The overcentralised and autocratic management of the editorial side sharply contrasts with the chaotic fragmentation of the non-editorial side.
While conditions have been created by this faction of the Board to ease out professionally qualified and senior editorial directors, all the directors on the non-editorial side, an overwhelming majority of whom, are not adequately qualified and also lack the necessary experience, continue to hang on to their positions that were earlier dished out as part of exchange of favours.
Shockingly, N. Ram, the Editor-in-Chief continues in his all powerful post for an indefinite period. There is again no word yet on K. Venugopal’s stepping back.
The Editorial side is run like a ‘banana republic’ with cronyism and vested interests ruling the roost and finding space in the editorial columns.
‘Murdochism’ with some of its most undesirable and sinister features has taken firm hold of the newspaper.
Quite apart from the blatantly pro-CPI(M) and pro-China tilt in coverage, Ram’s abuse of his position in The Hindu and influence peddling has been unrestrained by any ideology.
Two recent events have brought this to the fore.
The first is the coverage or non coverage of the 2G scam and turning The Hindu into a mouthpiece of accused A.Raja, going out of the way to organize an interview with him and publishing it on the day of his resignation.
The second and most recent incident has been brought out by the Gujarat police officer Sanjeev Bhatt in his affidavit filed in the Supreme Court which shows Ram as being the recipient of an e-mail on a matter as sensitive and serious as the investigation and related matters of post Godhra 2002 riots in Gujarat.
Sanjeev Bhatt has annexed an email to his affidavit which is very revealing. In that email that S. Gurumurthy sent to Ram on February 17, 2010, he had annexed a note on the investigations into the Gujarat riots case. “Here is the note, I would like you to go through it that you understand the issues before you talk to the person concerned,” goes the email. We all know who the “person concerned” that Ram was supposed to talk to is.
The periodic and extensive friendly interviews of Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksha done by N. Ram and carried in full op-ed pages served only as a smokescreen to hide the alleged war crimes that the UN committee indicted the Srilankan government on.
In my book, the two major blots on the journalistic record of The Hindu over the last forty years relate to its stand on the Emergency that was in force between June 1975 and March 1977 and on the largest scam in the history of independent India, the 2G scam.
Under its then Editor, G.Kasturi, The Hindu disgracefully extended tacit support to and even collaborated with the Emergency regime. On the 2G scam, under the Editor-in-Chief N. Ram, The Hindu shamefully acted as an apologist and mouthpiece of the prime accused A.Raja. It had only muted coverage of the 2G scam.
While The Hindu editorially asked for the resignations of Ashok Chavan, Suresh Kalmadi and B.S.Yeddyyurappa, there was not even a whisper about A.Raja’s resignation.
On the other hand, two obliging interviews of A.Raja were specially arranged to be done, not by the correspondent covering telecom, but shockingly by R.K.Radhakrishnan who used to cover matters relating to DMK. After A.Raja’s resignation and arrest, a change in stance reflecting a shameless and seamless U-turn is all too obvious even for a school kid to miss.
When media is used as a means to achieve private ends it undoubtedly becomes a calamity.
Primacy of editorial on which The Hindu has always prided itself has been sacrificed at the altar of vested interests and crass commercialism pushed by some directors who have scant regard for the legacy and larger calling and ideals of The Hindu.
Any claim of professionalisation in the appointment of Siddharth Varadarajan as Editor of The Hindu is a sham as professionally qualified and experienced family members on the editorial side — N.Ravi, Editor, Malini Parthasarathy, Executive Editor and Nirmala Lakshman, Joint Editor — have been selectively targeted for removal.
Double standards of the worst kind are at play.
The unfairness of it all is evident from the fact that some next generation family members, with little or no experience have been fast tracked into plum senior foreign postings with huge financial outgo, that normally only very senior journalists aspire to.
The so-called theory of separation of ownership from management was suddenly sprung only to vindictively and selectively target a few individuals. As stated earlier, N. Ram and K.Venugopal continue in their positions even as the so-called principle is not applicable to a few next generation family members and even as the business side directors continue in their positions for an indefinite period.
I am happy to recall that I stood vindicated by the Company Law Board order of December 22, 2010, which indicted the board faction that removed my responsibilities, as lacking in probity and good faith. I am thus stepping down with my head held high and with my self-respect and dignity intact.
I am also extremely happy and proud that I have been able to keep my word of honour, which unfortunately has not been the case with N. Ram who ought to have stepped down on May 4, 2010.
I am deeply pained that The Hindu that I grew up with and which I was proud to be an inseparable part of during the last four decades is not The Hindu that we see today. The Board faction that has perpetrated the gross injustice and vindictive acts must bear the cross for the current sorry state of affairs.
It has only succeeded in pushing The Hindu deep into an abyss. It requires the combined efforts of those sections of family members who are still yearning for its return to former glory and all its dedicated employees to pull the newspaper out of this abyss.
It is now time to bid adieu to all by wishing you the very best in your life and saying how fondly I cherish my long association with you. My thoughts will always be with everyone of you and your well being and with the great institution I am proud to have been an active part of.