Since 2006, Sindhu Sooryakumar has hosted nearly 635 episodes of ‘Cover Story’, a weekly news analysis show.

Sindhu Sooryakumar wearing a biege top anchoring Cover story on Asianet News
Features Journalism Thursday, September 10, 2020 - 13:40

It started simple. Ask Sindhu Sooryakumar, assistant executive editor, Asianet News about her current affairs programme ‘Cover Story’ and she will say, “Back then, all bureau chiefs were asked to come up with a news-based weekly programme. I thought of a review of the week’s main socio-political events. That’s all.”

That was way back in 2006. Not a single week was missed for the next 14 years. In nearly 635 episodes, Sindhu won many hearts and as many foes in political circles as well. All said and done, the influence of ‘Cover Story’ on the common public watching television is huge.

There was a recent study by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), which said that the advent of electronic media was opening up avenues for women journalists. It started off with news readers, but in the long run created a whole line up of very incisive women journalists. This is a paradigm shift in our mostly-patriarchal society. Sindhu Sooryakumar’s programme has to be viewed in the light of this development, said CS Venkiteswaran, academic and media critic.

Sindhu's pick of her top favorites

Sindhu is very clear about her show, which is a flagship programme for Asianet News now. “I am in the middle of news 24x7, so my challenge is to bring in a new aspect to a news development that has been discussed threadbare in Prime-Time debates. So, I look for angles that common people think about what is missing or ‘not that right’ in the news breaks. Most often, this aspect is what connects the show to the ordinary viewer. They feel that the programme is raising questions they had in mind when the news actually broke earlier in that week,” said Sindhu. Her experience in the news bureau for more than 20 years gives a rare insight into the unfolding news events.

It also meant that Sindhu and her editing team will have to wait till late Friday to work on the script for the programme that goes on air on Saturday at 9.30 pm. While the anchor portions featuring Sindhu will be shot on Saturday evening, the editing of related visuals, pooling in from recent news files and archives will happen earlier in the day. “I make sure that someone from top management gets a preview of the programme before it goes on air.”

Sindhu's pick of her top favorites

Even then, there had been occasions where she had to change the whole script at the last hour. “Like the demonetisation speech by Prime Minister Narendra Modi or deaths of Sukumar Azhikode and former Chief Minister K Karunakaran. When such events of great social impact happen, we have no other go, but to discard the decided script and go for a new one at the shortest possible notice. But then, that is the thrill in the job,” she said.

Over the years, there were quite too many feathers ruffled by Sindhu and her comments. While they were not directly connected to her programme, it was actually ‘Cover Story’ that made Sindhu a familiar face. So, it was easy to make her victim of one of the most vicious cyber lynching incidents.

“Actually, it happened when I was presenting a news broadcast. Two of my panellists, a young Communist Party of India – Marxist (CPI-M) leader and one from Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), quoted something about the then Union Minister Smriti Irani making a comment on Goddess Durga being addressed differently. The entire wrath was heaped on me, though I did not utter anything to that effect,” recalled Sindhu.

Her phone started ringing without break, after her phone number was spread over social media. “I am also told that my number was written inside public toilets with the message that ‘she is a call girl, you can reach her at this number’… Some of the callers did not even know why they were calling me and for what. They were told to shout abuses at me and they did that.” Sindhu is still fighting three cases in the court against the cyber assault launched on her ever since this incident occurred in February 2016.

Sindhu's pick of her top favorites

This one incident is a pointer on how a patriarchal society responds to a woman journalist who takes a political stand that is beyond party politics. “This programme meets the primary objective of journalism – that of continuously raising questions against those in power. The most obvious evidence of Sindhu being non-partisan and that she is doing it right is the fact that she has detractors in all political parties,” said MG Radhakrishnan, Editor of Asianet News.

The programme ‘Cover Story’, when it was started in 2006, was heavily laced with satire. Sindhu used clippings from films to bring in the comic effect to current affairs news developments. However, the channel scheduled other satirical takes on current affairs and along with that, ‘Cover Story’ too changed its overall look. Now, it is more of a critical analysis of the news stories. “This is definitely one of the longest running columns in the history of Malayalam where an anchor has been presenting a show. There have not been many columns that continued this long even in print journalism. Her show is also the longest running programme with the highest viewership rating in our channel at present,” said Radhakrishnan.

His view is corroborated by Venkiteswaran too. “Sindhu’s voice represents that of the democratic politics, reflecting the ethical and moral outrage and the best part is that she has been doing it consistently. It is not a deep analysis of the news, but more of a moral barometer of the Malayali psyche,” he said.

That is why, Sindhu could connect with the ordinary family crowd, even while rubbing those with strong and partisan political views in the wrong way, and remain in top charts. As a woman teacher in a vocational higher secondary school in suburbs of Thiruvananthapuram city strongly believes, Sindhu and her ‘Cover Story’ reflects the true situation in our politics. Maybe that gave Sindhu the courage to brave the unprecedented attack on her career and personal life and continue to be the face on the cover.

“I was more tense when the show started, as I was heading a bureau then. But over these years, I have learnt to weather the harshest criticisms. At the same time, I have also evolved. Now, I am more careful not to make my criticism become personal and ensure that they are politically correct,” Sindhu said.

That conviction helped Sindhu to remain on the track. Be it standing by the cause of the Constitution in the Sabarimala issue or making a comment in the recent gold smuggling case involving a foreign diplomat and a spectrum of politicians. “My experience is that the attack becomes vicious when some top leaders are criticised, not when the party is pulled up. At that point, your personal life and character are maligned. On another occasion, members of a political party visited me at the office and very politely explained after presenting a 6-7 page detailed letter on why I was wrong in making a particular comment in a specific episode. I listened to it all and just before they left, one of them commented that their party had a strong presence in the area in Ernakulam district. It was hardly a veiled threat as my parents and siblings still live there. All I did was smile back and said, they have lived all their lives there and it was now too late to shift them.”

Poltiical commentator Geetha Nazeer notes that Sindhu's show is indeed an achievement. "A woman speaking serious politics was not common when she started it. But she took that step, which is really to be appreciated. Along the way, she was badly bullied, and many thought that would suppress her. But she dealt with it in the best way possible. She did not back out, she just continued. NWMI also supported her during those difficult times. Moreover, she had her priorities. Women-centred issues were given importance. Her manner of presentation was also unique,” Geetha Nazeer says.

Sindhu keeps that smile going now, while taking a critical stand on contemporary politics even in the middle of her busy official schedule as the Assistant Executive Editor of Asianet News. Every week. Week after week.

Anand Haridas is a freelance writer with an experience of nearly 15 years in mainstream journalism.

 

Sindhu's pick of her top favorites

 

Show us some love! Support our journalism by becoming a TNM Member - Click here.