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25 March, 2010

The Hindu vs The Indian Express

The Indian Express reported on Thursday that a fight was on in the family that owns The Hindu for control of the newspaper group, and in a quick response N. Ram, Editor-in-Chief of all publications of the group, announced his decision to launch civil and criminal defamatory proceedings against IE personnel.

The Indian Express carried the New Delhi-datelined report by Archna Shukla, under a telling headline: Battle for control breaks out in The Hindu very divided family.

The report, which also appeared in IE’s sister publication, the Financial Express, said, “A bitter battle has broken out among family members for control of one of the country’s oldest and most respected media companies, Kasturi & Sons Ltd, the publisher of the 132-year-old English newspaper The Hindu and business daily The Hindu Business Line.

“At the heart of this battle is the proposed retirement of publisher and the group Editor-in-Chief N Ram and his decision to dig his heels in.”

As Associate Editor of The Hindu, Ram had played a key role in the newspaper’s coverage of the Bofors scandal, based on investigations made by Chitra Subramaniam, a part-time correspondent based in Geneva. The B.D. Goenka Award for Excellence in Journalism, instituted by the Indian Express group, was awarded jointly to him and Chitra in 1989. The following year Ram received the Padma Bhushan.

Ram was widely tipped to succeed his paternal uncle, G. Kasturi, as the Editor of The Hindu but differences cropped up between them in the closing stages of the Bofors investigation. As a result, when Kasturi stepped down in 1991, Ram, who was already the Editor of all other publications of the group, was bypassed and his younger brother, N. Ravi, made the Editor of The Hindu.

In 2003, Ram was brought into The Hindu as Editor-in-Chief. Kasturi himself was said to have taken the initiative to re-induct him.

The media is a big champion of transparency but it rarely parts with information about itself except when a newspaper or television channel wants to blow its trumpet on the basis of readership surveys or audit reports.

Soon after Archna Shukla’s report appeared in the Indian Express and the Financial Express, Ram said in a statement displayed at The Hindu’s website: “These reports are riddled with demonstrable falsehoods and defamatory assertions, some of them attributed to unnamed sources, made with reckless and malicious disregard for the facts and the truth. And this despite the professional courtesy I extended to the journalist and the newspapers by responding precisely and factually to five specific questions emailed to me on March 24 by Ms Shukla.”

Ram’s decision to sue the Indian Express group is unfortunate. Such action may inhibit newspapers from publishing material about media developments. A more desirable course of action would have been to point out the alleged falsehoods and defamatory assertions and demand that the newspapers correct them.

The Indian Express group was also embroiled in a family dispute not long ago. It was resolved by splitting the newspaper group into two and separating the real estate part.

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