Within a week of the employees of the Kerala-based news portal SouthLive clashing with its management, it has now culminated into a mass resignation.
The crisis hit SouthLive when its Editor-in-Chief Sebastian Paul published a piece in support of Malayalam actor Dileep, who is accused of abducting and allegedly sexually assaulting a leading woman actor.
Following the resignation of three senior journalists—Executive Editor NK Bhoopesh, Senior Editor CP Sathiaraj and Associate Editor Maneesh Narayanan all the remaining journalists, except one, tendered their resignations and are currently serving their notice period.
The SouthLive team comprises 16 people including Bhoopesh, Maneesh and Sathiaraj.
Bhoopesh said that most of the journalists who resigned are juniors who are just beginning their careers.
"They have a passion for journalism and along with that, they are clear about their political and social outlook. They resigned with conviction and not as a means of showing solidarity to the senior journalists," Bhoopesh said.
Most of the journalists working with the media outlet publicly distanced themselves from the article, maintaining that Sebastian Paul's views on the matter do not reflect the over-all editorial policy. However, Sebastian Paul stood by his article and even demanded that those who are opposed to his position should resign.
Taking to Facebook, Sathiaraj, who has been associated with SouthLive since its inception, said SouthLive meant a lot more than just a workplace for him.
Announcing his resignation, Sathiaraj said, "After voicing our protest against Sebastian Paul's article he said that people who do not abide by his views should quit. The management reiterated this. Disagreement is not something that needs to be hidden, it should be expressed. Nowhere has it been said that we must not point out a mistake in the Editor-in-Chief's article. In fact it is done to ensure that the platform doesn't commit grave mistakes."
"SouthLive is no longer part of my life and career," announced Maneesh Narayanan on his Facebook on Wednesday.
"I was asked to leave just a day before we were supposed to expand the platform using more video content. After working for years in newspapers and television, I never felt that I made a mistake by joining SouthLive, a budding platform. Over the years, I also developed an attachment towards it. I am glad to be part of the team, that gained people's trust in a very short span of time of three years," he said.
Explaining the circumstances under which he is leaving, Maneesh wrote: "I am leaving at a time I felt that SouthLive is deviating from the values it upheld since its inception."
Another employee Ajmal Aramam told TNM that it was impossible for a journalist to work in a "dead" newsroom.
"The soul of SouthLive was a concept of a journalist-driven media house and we have been functioning based on that principle. When the management says that one person's policy is the company's policy, then it becomes an autocratic institution, where a journalist cannot work. I joined SouthLive only because of the editorial line they have been following. And once they announced that the independent, democratic, pro-oppressed editorial angle is no more and the journalists must subscribe to what the editor/management say, the newsroom is dead and a journalist cannot work in a dead place," Ajmal said.
Bhoopesh said that they resisted the "illogical" and "unreasonable" stand of their Editor-in-Chief.
"The editorial policy of SouthLive was something we at the newsroom developed over the years by practice. There are media firms where the Editor-in-Chief's is the final word but our editorial policy was one that evolved by itself. Sebastian Paul was an honourary editor for the longest time and had only recently taken up the post of Editor-in-Chief. But he was not involved in the day-to-day meetings. Leaving aside the issue of a democratic newsroom, you needn't be a journalist to oppose Sebastian Paul's views on the actor abduction case," he said.
The question now is whether an emerging media outlet like SouthLive can afford to be seen as a platform that runs solely based on the whims and fancies of its Editor-in-Chief.
"I can't speak about the future of SouthLive. But the main driving force of journalism is credibility and once you lose it, you lose it forever. They can run the platform by hiring new employees, but what is lost cannot be regained," Bhoopesh said.