Defining Moments: N Murali: Candid reflections

By Sumantha Rathore , afaqs!, New Delhi | In Media Publishing | May 30, 2011
N Murali, managing director, The Hindu, reminisces about a career that started off in the accounts department and ended in the boardroom.

As he prepares for retirement after 40 years at the newspaper, N Murali, managing director, The Hindu, reminisces about his career.

After my father passed away in 1977, apart from shouldering more responsibilities on the business side, I also had to take my father's place in the Indian Newspaper Society (INS), IENS then, representing The Hindu. That broadened my exposure to the industry as a whole, serving as a window to the larger world of media, advertising and government. I also became one of the youngest presidents of the IENS, at age 37.

During my tenure with IENS, I formed a close alliance with the late K M Mathew, chief editor and patriarch of Malayala Manorama. A dear friend of my father's, he took a great liking for me, and for the next 30 years, he was not just my mentor, friend and philosopher, but also a father-figure.

Another veteran of the industry who helped me find my feet in IENS was C A Narayan of The Indian Express.

I would like to refer to two major 'defining' moments that in retrospect, proved to be game-changing. The change that I brought in, along with other senior colleagues, was in the relationship between the IENS and the AAAI (Advertising Agencies Association of India, which was testy, adversarial and tense throughout the '70s, and till the early '80s. Things came to a head resulting in a standoff in the early '80s on the seemingly intractable issue of reduction of credit period from 75 days for IENS 'accredited advertising agencies'.

After a stalemate, IENS decided to unilaterally reduce it to 45 days, which was met with severe resistance and hostility from the AAAI. After protracted negotiations, both the industry bodies hammered out a solution acceptable to both sides, including reduction of the credit period to 60 days, instead of 45 days. The negotiations were led by moderates on both sides and as the chairman of the advertising committee and later as the president of INS, I was happy to have played a key role, along with some senior colleagues. I consider this a defining moment, because the relationship between IENS and AAAI became one of equal partnership, mutually respectful, and harmonious ever after.

The other game-changing event concerns my own newspaper, The Hindu. It was in the aftermath of liberalisation and opening up of the Indian economy in the early '90s. Before that, newspapers found it difficult to start new editions and enter new markets due to various restrictions. Thus, the maximum pagination in the main section of any newspaper was not more than 16 pages and there were a few supplements.

The advertising boom in the wake of liberalisation, coupled with the advances in newspaper publishing and printing technology, offered a huge opportunity. The Hindu was one of the first mainstream newspapers to seize this opportunity. In 1993-1994, we had wholly computerised photo-composing and remote imaging with the help of state-of-the-art pagination system from CCI Europe in Denmark. The number of pages went up to 24, and more colour and regional coverage in different editions were introduced. That enhanced the depth and width of its editorial coverage, too.

Looking back over these 40 years, I have learnt many lessons and have become wiser with time. I have stayed focussed throughout, and brought a lot of intensity and passion to my job. My mantra has always been to unwaveringly pursue what you passionately believe in, and stay true to your core values and beliefs and core competence.

There have been some failures and regrets, too. For instance, I have been helpless, or would like to plead my inability to stem the erosion in the last five or six years of the core journalistic values which The Hindu was always proud of -- authentic, unbiased, balanced and objective coverage, and independence. There have been instances where these values have been severely compromised, particularly, in the coverage of the succession of mega scams of the last year.

My other major regret is the inability to ensure the introduction of governance norms in my family-owned and family-managed company.

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