Chennai: The Madras high court ruled in favour of The Hindu’s editor-in-chief N. Ram on Friday, helping prospects for a reshuffle that seeks to remove founding family members from the 132-year-old newspaper’s editorial team.
“We are happy about the order that vindicates our position,” Ram told Mint over the telephone. He added that there was no clear timeline yet for the editorial changes.
His brother N. Ravi, who had been next in line to take over after Ram’s retirement, indicated that the high court ruling may be appealed at the Supreme Court before the next board meeting, scheduled for 20 July.
“Another resolution needs to be passed to implement the proposed changes in management, but any such action is still subject to the CLB’s (Company Law Board) final decision, which will be heard end of August,” said Ravi.
In May, Ram moved the Madras high court against a CLB ruling preventing implementation of key decisions approved by directors on 20 May. CLB is a part-judicial body that acts as an umpire in corporate disputes.
The CLB order stalled changes that would have seen family members stepping down from editorial posts and the appointment of an editor who wasn’t a member of the founding family. The row has underscored the divide between the two groups on the board of The Hindu’s publisher Kasturi and Sons Ltd—the larger of these led by Ram.
Judge Vinod Kumar Sharma of the Madras high court had heard the case on 14 June. He said on Friday that the arguments by Ravi’s lawyers—about family succession being a tradition at the daily—were not sustainable as this was not a part of the Memorandum of Association or the Companies Act.
The Friday judgement overturned the stay imposed by CLB and stressed that the main company petition at that forum must be resolved at the earliest, preferably within six months.
CLB had ruled against the removal of Ravi, editor of The Hindu, joint editor Nirmala Lakshman and executive editor Malini Parthasarathy despite a majority decision by the board.
Ram’s appeal said that the appointment of Siddharth Varadarajan, the paper’s national bureau chief, as its editor-in-chief—which had been approved by the board on 20 May—will professionalize the editorial function and insulate it from shareholder interference.
Five of the 12 directors are opposed to the planned changes-Ravi, Lakshman, Parthasarathy, managing director N. Murali and director Nalini Krishnan.
In the 20 May order, CLB member Lizamma Augustine didn’t seem to support a break with tradition without the significant backing of the family.
Most Indian newspapers with the exception of The Telegraph and The Hindu have professionals as editors. No outsider has been editor of The Hindu since 1965.
Varadarajan’s proposed appointment followed consultant McKinsey’s advice to professionalize and catalyse revenue at the newspaper, which is losing share to The Times of India on its home turf, Chennai.
“The focus (at The Hindu) has been on politics rather than business,” said a media analyst at a Mumbai-based brokerage who did not want to be identified. “I am sure the other party will appeal again and this will go on. Unless there is a final closure, legal or through negotiations, it is not possible to give direction to the business.”
HT Media Ltd publishes Mint and the Hindustan Times, which compete with Kasturi and Sons’s publications in some markets.