The Hindu relapses: or, why N Ram should keep his mouth shut

The Hindu’s brief experiment with professional editing and management has collapsed acrimoniously: editor Siddharth Varadarajan announced his resignation on twitter, the Hindu swiftly came up with its own version, and the Hindu’s supremo N Ram has been freely criticising both Varadarajan and fired CEO Arun Anant in the pages of other newspapers.

Disclosure: as readers of this blog know, I wrote a few opinion articles for The Hindu during Siddharth Varadarajan’s tenure as editor. I don’t know him, or any other senior figure in the Hindu. It happened this way: I had something that I felt was worth saying in a wider medium than this blog; I found Varadarajan’s email address on his own blog; I emailed him directly; and he replied, and after a minimum of correspondence, ran the piece. But I have never met him or corresponded with him on any other matter, and know nothing about the internals of this affair.

I was already an admirer of Varadarajan’s writing in The Hindu and, earlier, the Times of India. And, in my personal opinion, the Hindu’s readability improved immensely under his editorship. There was great diversity of articles (both news and opinion), a significant amount of “breaking news”, and a very sensible editorial line in all cases. And, in particular, he allowed plenty of space for dissent, both in the letters section and in “debate”-style rejoinder sections to previously published opinion pieces.

A bit of history: The Hindu has been the “newspaper of record” of south India for decades, arguably for most of its existence (well over 100 years), and is influential in other parts of India too. Like that other “newspaper of record”, the New York Times, the Hindu is family-owned; but unlike the NYT, it has mostly been family-run and family-edited too. The retirement of G. Kasturi, its longest serving editor, in 1991 prompted some ugly squabbling. Kasturi’s nephew N Ravi took over as editor in 1991, he was displaced by his brother N Ram amidst some acrimony in 2003, and when Ram brought in Siddharth Varadarajan in 2011, Ravi and their cousin Malini Parthasarathy resigned from editorial positions loudly protesting their being sidelined in favour of the “junior” Varadarajan. Now both are back.

The two allegations are mismanagement of the business resulting in falling circulation, employee dissatisfaction etc (which may be more an allegation against Anant), and, in Ram’s words, “editorialisation in the guise of news and manipulation of news coverage” under Varadarajan (while declining to give specific instances). Coming from Ram, this claim is comical.

Ram’s almost decade-long tenure saw the Hindu become almost an official mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party. Check out this piece, published on October 2, 2009 (Gandhi Jayanti) on the front page above the fold: written as a news report by Ram himself from Beijing, it waxes poetic about China’s rise, “showcased” by Tiananmen Square (which the world remembers, even today, for other reasons). After breathless and entirely unquestioning coverage of Premier Hu Jintao’s speech, the military review, parade and floats, Ram ends on a romantic note: “As I write, the evening is quite young at Tian’anmen Square.” So, Mr Ram, was this editorialisation in the guise of news, or news in the guise of editorialisation, or both? Who paid for your trip to Beijing to cover this parade? Where were you seated, and at whose invitation?

This is hardly the only example under Ram’s tenure. He consistently praised China to the detriment of, for example, the Tibet cause (take a look at this news item, published in The Hindu, which quotes N Ram, editor of The Hindu, rejecting Tibetan “propaganda”!). He unfailingly toed the line of Sri Lankan president Rajapaksa on the Tamil issue (see this fawning interview). And he almost never published dissenting letters to any of this (see this letters page in response to the Rajapaksa interview). None of which is surprising given his history as a card-carrying Communist and admirer of authoritarian figures. Nor is it surprising that, during Ram’s tenure as editor, the Hindu carried his photograph on more occasions than it had carried photographs of all previous editors during its entire history.

[EDIT Oct 23, 2013: I forgot to mention this supreme example of N Ram's editorial impartiality.]

So whether or not Siddharth Varadarajan can be accused of editorialising in news selection, Ram is the very last person in the world who can make that accusation with a straight face. And by doing so, rather than merely parting ways with Varadarajan in mutual silence, Ram has merely demeaned himself and his newspaper.

So ends The Hindu’s brief experiment with professional editing and management. Pity. For two years it was actually quite a good newspaper. One bright spot is that Ram is not returning as chief editor — instead, brother Ravi, a relatively colourless figure, returns to the job. I expect that The Hindu will become, if not the red rag that it was in Ram’s time, the bland inoffensive paper that it used to be earlier.

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4 Comments

  1. Dr.D.K.Samuel

     /  October 22, 2013

    Poor Siddharth Varadarajan, while blowing hot against multi / anti nationals at full speed he forgot one very important information in India ” In a family blue blood and surname (in this case payasam) is really thicker and more important than water. I am proud that he resigned and did not become a fool contributing editor (who is the non contributing editor, what a joke). Anyway all dinosaurs will become extinct and the little birds will fly and take over, so Siddharth Varadarajan don’t worry, you have a first class mind and ability, the cream will always rise up in a bottle irrespective of its shape so cheers and best step forward.. With Rams like this what will happen in Ramrajya

    Reply
  2. More details on pro-Chinese reporting under N. Ram can be found at

    http://www.friendsoftibet.org/save/

    (Also read the article titled big brother fascination by Ram Guha)
    See here how his daughter became the subject of cover page story under Rams leadership

    http://www.hindu.com/2007/05/21/stories/2007052101982000.htm

    Ram was the most authoritarian editor in the history of the Hindu. Under his editorship the Hindu deteriorated to Chennai edition of CPI(M)s mouth piece People Democracy. Also, he published several pro-russian articles on Chechnya and Georgia. I wrote couple of letters challenging those claims, which never got published.
    Another news Ram buried was the the tragic death of “W.R Varadarajan”, an up-right CITU leader. He has been accused of some “women issue” (remember his wife is a Dalit widow), which leads to his expulsion from CPIM and subsequent suicide. Varadarajan’s side was never heard by his party. Many believe that it was a fabricated story. Details can be found here

    http://www.telegraphindia.com/1100222/jsp/frontpage/story_12135705.jsp

    Reply
  3. N. Ram is more clos eto Pakisatn than China.. Now his stomach and heart may be burning after 16th May 2014 due to Narendra Modi’s landslide victory.. Narendra Modiisgoingto bethe PM of India.From 2002 onwards N. Ram has been shedding poisons and Venom on Narendra Modi.Not only N. R. Ram but also more than 85%of the English Media did that.They inored tha factthat they are not the people who decide the Fate of Narendra Modi.

    Reply

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