Malini’s Exit : The expected has happened

former Editorial Adviser to The Hindu and Columnist (1994-2014), The Hindu Business Line
G.Kasturi used to tell me any number of times during my 30 year long association with him that Malini Parthasarathy was a “medical miracle”.  At one stage, in her early years, her survival was despaired of as she suffered from grievously disabling health issues. It was really a miracle that over the years, not only did she overcome those disabilities but emerged as a sharp-witted and aggressive personality, able to hold her own as a correspondent and writer. She was peerless as an interviewer of high profile leaders of Governments in India and abroad and reports of some of those interviews make fascinating reading even today.
She could have made a good Editor too but for her abrasive and off-putting human relations. She was seen as  ill-tempered and authoritarian, with no respect for age or experience. In short, all that Rahul Pandit, Praveen Swami and P.Sainath unburdened themselves about her working style, when they quit The Hindu unable to suffer her,  were true. Within a couple of days of my joining as the Editorial Adviser to The Hindu on the invitation of G.Kasturi in 1989, without standing on protocol or prestige deriving from my background, I called on her in her room in office. She behaved with me so abruptly and insultingly at the very first encounter even without having known me before that I was taken aback. Since then, for 26 years I had purposely avoided meeting or greeting her. Ever since she became the Editor of The Hindu,  my sources in the paper have been constantly posting me with stories of her supercilious behaviour.
Malini’s departure doesn’t write finis to The Hindu’s troubles. It has become an insensitive and encrusted bureaucracy. With the result, the behaviour of the other members too of the once hallowed family generates negative vibes. All my mails to the Trinity, N.Ram, N.Ravi and N.Murali,  have been like stones dropped into a well — and I am supposed to have some public standing. N.Ram often forgets and skips appointments: This happened to me thrice or four times in the early years, and since then, I have not sought one-on-one meetings with him nor spoken to him in all the 28 years after I settled down in Madras, except occasionally and by chance . I have deliberately kept my distance from the three of them  to avoid the embarrassment of any unwelcome boorishness.
None of  them deigned to take note of my son’s, wife’s and brother’s passing, nor acknowledged invitations to functions like my sathabhisekam. Amazing that apparently well-brought up people from supposedly decent families of noteworthy lineage forget the ephemeral and transient nature of life and its trappings and behave in this subhuman manner! Lest some consider the use of the word “subhuman” harsh, here is its meaning as per Merriam Webster: not having or showing the level of kindness, intelligence, etc., that is expected of normal human beings
 The only persons to whom I felt the closest and the greatest degree of affinity in all these years were G.Kasturi and his second son, K.Venugopal.  And Kasturi too, whom I met almost every other week for two or three hours at a stretch for as long as I was with The Hindu and The Business Line, had plenty of his own frustrations to share. His disturbing accounts of the goings-on in the family-run business might cause a sensation.
I am tempted to write frankly, as the family members themselves  have been unsparing and gone public in the past about the unsavoury feuds within Kasturi & Sons. Actually, the firm reminds me of  the kind of devious and pernicious power struggles that were typical of ruling dispensations of Middle Ages. I once got it conveyed to N.Ram, through Sashi Kumar, his side-kick in the Asian School of Journalism, and directly to K.Venugopal, that  such disruptive traits and tendencies didn’t augur well for the survival of the paper too long, and reminded them of how great papers have sunk without a trace like the Titanic.
Here is an extract from my memoirs Fading Footprints soon to be published about family-run media businesses which also apply to Kasturi & Sons:
“All the negative points about the media get accentuated when they are run as family businesses. First, there is no transparency about the methods adopted by the members of the family to make money and spend it, with no sign of social conscience or social commitment or social responsibility.  Huge amounts are blown up in  making rash and reckless investments and worthless pursuits. If such squandered resources are pooled, they could have served to construct hudreds of primary health care centres, and primary schools and provide drinking water sources to as many villages. At the very least, the price of their publications could have been reduced by two-third.
Second, contrary to popular expectations, family members, instead of responsibly supplementing and complimenting one another towards excellence both in conduct and example, spend most of their time waging internecine feuds among themselves in which quarters are neither given nor taken. In the process, attention to the content and quality of products suffers, and the workplace becomes a stinking cess pool breeding backbiting, disloyalty, cronyism, cliques and coteries. The manner in which one faction of Kasturi & Co fraternity ganged up against another and unceremoniously and uncouthly bundled out close kith and kin with no reasons adduced to the readers is reminiscent of what used to be happening in Byzantium.
Third, with relatives swarming all over the place demanding to be accommodated in niches carved out for them, professionalism suffers. For instance, office and accounts management gets to be frighteningly poor, because the skills of supervision are lacking in those at the helm. There is scant courtesy and accountability even in such simple things as purposeful conduct of meetings, keeping to appointments, replying to letters and messages from the readers and members of the public, ability to communicate and motivate, and human relations — in short, everything that pertains to leadership.
Considering all these features, I sometimes think that readers and watchers of the print and electronic media should organise themselves into a Media Watchers’ Association and force the so-called Fourth Estate to observe a stringent code of conduct on the following lines:
1. There should be no acceptance by media personnel of gifts, perks, money, awards or privileges of any kind from the Government, public sector, corporates, civil society, lobbies, political parties, interests and individuals, since these could be misconstrued as compromising their independence, impartiality and professional integrity.
2. Media should be vigilant against allowing personal predilection or partisanship to cloud their judgment or slant their reports and opinions.
3. Media should not adopt a “Dog-doesn’t-eat-dog” policy by brushing the misdeeds of their own ilk under the carpet. First and foremost, their accountability is to the readers and the society at large, and advancing public interest should be their watchword. They should be as willing and courageous to purge the media of pernicious deviations from norms and values as they are to set matters right in the Government and the society.
4. Media should at no time swerve from accuracy, truth and fairness. There should be enough scope for expression of dissenting opinion and right of reply. Comments and articles received from the public should be treated with respect, and in case of their not being accepted for publication, the contributors should be informed of the reasons.
5. While investigative journalism and exposes have a legitimate place, they should not be allowed to degenerate into witch-hunting and vengeful pursuit of individuals and institutions with ulterior motives.
6. There should be no second-guessing of police versions or court decisions in the reporting of crimes and criminal cases, leading to trial by media and tarnishing of reputation.
7. Every media enterprise should publish and put n the public domain its audited accounts at the close of each financial year, regardless of its status under the Companies’ Act.
8. Likewise, it should make available to the public full information about the qualifications and background of its columnists, correspondents, reporters and editorial staff as and when they are appointed.
9. Those at the helm of media enterprises should consider themselves answerable before the people in observing what they demand of all others in their editorials, namely, rectitude, propriety and probity in the management of their internal affairs.
10. Every profit-making media enterprise should be a shining example of philanthropy and public service.
11.Every organ of the media should constitute an independent consultative body comprising five or six eminent public figures who would at periodical meetings advise the Editor on the content and editorial thrust of its publications.
12. Whoever is appointed as the Readers’ Editor should be a reputed expert or professional from outside the media establishment, as otherwise he becomes a proxy and apologist of the establishment.
The Association should set up a performance audit-cum-watchdog panel to keep the media under continuing scrutiny in the above respects and take such action as is necessary against transgressions coming to its notice.”

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