On October 22, 2013 readers got a shock to learn from The Hindu that drastic change in its editorial and business departments has been brought about, with the ousting of the editor as well as that of the Chief Executive Officer of Kasturi & Sons Ltd (KSL). The editor, Siddarth Varadarajan was offered the role of Contributing Editor and Senior Columnist which he politely refused and thereafter resigned. In his place the Company’s Board of Directors appointed N Ravi as the paper’s Editor-in-Chief and Malini Parthasarathy in charge of the paper’s Literature, Arts and Culture sections. The Board appointed N Ram as chairman of KSL and N Murali as co-chairman. The Board disqualified Arun Anant as the company’s CEO while K Balaji has been appointed as Managing Director in charge of production and business strategy.
It was N Ram who, in the first place had appointed Siddharth as editor, way back in May 2011. It is the same N Ram who, in late October, got him out for departing from the ‘core values’ of The Hindu. As the announcement put it: “The decision to make deep-going changes was made chiefly on the ground that there were violations and defiance of ‘living our values’, the mandatory code of editorial values applicable to The Hindu.”
Siddharth, who resigned immediately after the Board has taken its decision, told the media that the change meant that the Kasturi family members are back in power. Siddharth, the 43-year old editor had a distinguished career as a journalist and an academician.
According to N Ram, Siddharth was editorialising in the guise of news and manipulating news coverage and was publishing “loaded items on politicians”, and, what is more, publishing “places that should have appeared in the edit pages and not as news items”. A pretty strong charge. Siddharth’s response to that was “there were occasional instances of editorialising that slipped in, just as they did when Mr Ram and Mr Ravi edited the paper”.
As he saw the new development, what has happened “is merely an excuse to reverse the earlier decision to ‘professionalise the paper”. That sounds like an lame explanation.
Surely The Hindu was just as professionally being brought out prior to Siddarth’s elevation? Wasn’t N Ram ‘professional’ during his term as editor?
One believes that the biggest mistake Siddharth did was to accept the editorship of The Hindu, which is a private family paper –and has been one down the decades – and has among family members enough editorial talent to run the paper successfully. It is not that the paper was no the verge of collapse in 2011 for Siddharth to resurrect it. In the course of his editorial lifetime he must have stepped on the toes of at least some members consciously or unconsciously though it is said that actually it was N Ram who wanted Siddharth out. The point is made – and one can only go by reports—that it was N Ram who wanted the editor is out and it was his casting vote that did the damage.
Are the charges against Siddarth valid? As a regular reader of The Hindu it was interesting to see changes in the reporting side of the paper and in the very innovative structure of the Op-Ed page.
But one never felt that the editor was departing from standard norms. But that is not for an outsider to decide. Editorialising news is not exactly a new development though it has become more fashionable in recent times. Most papers, for instance, editorialised the events on post-Godhra riots in Gujarat and that is not exactly ethical. But what remains a mystery is why any alleged error in Siddarth’s part was not brought to his notice for corrections to be made.