At a time when most senior media persons lament the loss of media independence, a rare instance of an editorial team rebelling against their own chief has emerged in Kerala.
Lawyer and media critic Sebastian Paul recently published an article in SouthLive, the news website where he is the Editor-in-Chief, in support of the actor Dileep in the Malayalam actor assault case. Even as wide range of actors, activists and others have reacted with outrage at the piece, Paul is also getting a lot of flak from his colleagues.
In the article, Paul spoke appreciatively of a positive wave of support arising for Dileep, and hit out at the judiciary for denying Dileepâ€™s multiple bail applications.
Soon after, NK Bhoopesh, Executive Editor at SouthLive English took to Facebook to declare that the Editor-in-Chiefâ€™s article was not the common opinion of the editorial team.
Calling the article a part of the propaganda campaign that has been launched to support Dileep and undermine the actor who was assaulted, Bhoopesh said that it ran directly counter to the stand of the editorial team.
â€śMany in SouthLive, including me, had asked him not to publish this article which is a complete U-turn from our earlier position. But the decision was forced by Sebastian Paul. Comparing Madani and Zakariah of Parappanangadi to Dileep is an insult to them as well as to other prisoners under trial,â€ť Bhoopesh wrote.
â€śI donâ€™t know what the reason was to take such an insulting decision. The management also took Sebastian Paulâ€™s side, and neglected all of the objections from journalists working here. They have not given a satisfying reason for this,â€ť he wrote.
â€śI strongly condemn this article that supports Dileep and speaks with the voice of the hunter,â€ť he added.
Another critical voice from within SouthLive has been Chief Entertainment Editor Maneesh Narayanan, who has a reputation for maintaining an independent voice and not kowtowing to industry interests. Sharing Bhoopeshâ€™s post, Maneesh seconded his opinion of Sebastian Paulâ€™s opinion piece.
Sikesh Gopinath, another senior reporter from SouthLive, also wrote that such a piece should not have come from the organisation he worked for.
â€śI will not stand with this attitude. I can neither stand with Dileep nor support the Chief Editorâ€™s article at any time,â€ť Sikesh wrote.
What Paul wrote in his opinion piece
In the article, Paul criticised the courts for trusting implicitly in the police version of events and keeping Dileep in prison for over 60 days. â€śCriminal law and the Constitution warn us not to trust the police version. Unfortunately, magistrates and the judges are not taking this warning into consideration. They have placed their trust in the police and are being guided by the simple logic that there wonâ€™t be smoke without fire. They will also raise the humanitarian question of taking into consideration the situation of the victim."
He also compared Dileepâ€™s situation to that of PDP leader Abdul Madani, currently under trial in Karnataka. â€ś"We saw this in the case of Abdul Nazar Madani. How easily we stamped him as a terrorist and left him to the clutches of Karnataka police. The police is unable to prove the charges against him but he has already spent 7 years in jail.â€ť
Paul even went so far as to draw comparisons to the crucifixion of Jesus. â€śI am a person who believes in a prisoner and worships him. That, the Romans did not give justice to him is an accusation made by time, not me. This why the cry from Gagultha (where Jesus was crucified) is heard even now.â€ť
He also cast doubt on Manju Warrier, who was the first to speak of a conspiracy in the crime. â€śAre they playing with the life of a man, who has been accused by a criminal and people who have vested interests?â€ť Paul had asked.