June and July were busy months for some of the prominent news organisations in Kerala. One resignation after the other — at the top level — drove the changing of the guard in the editorial department at some of these organisations, almost like a domino’s effect. In June, journalist Unni Balakrishnan, who was heading the Mathrubhumi News channel, resigned. Rajeev Devaraj, who was the editor-in-chief of MediaOne news channel, took the baton from Unni in July. Pramod Raman, the former senior coordinating editor of Manorama News channel, stepped into Rajeev’s shoes. But that wasn't all.
After a stint of 20 months as the Editor of Mathrubhumi newspaper, senior journalist Manoj K Das joined the Asianet group as the Managing Editor of Asianet News, Suvarna News and other ventures. Soon, media veteran MG Radhakrishnan resigned as the Editor of Asianet News. However, the significant change in Asianet News is the elevation of journalist Sindhu Sooryakumar as the Executive Editor of the channel.
Sindhu Sooryakumar, who anchors the popular ‘Cover Story’ on Asianet News, is the second woman in Kerala to be appointed the Executive Editor of a news channel. Touted to be one of the bravest female journalists in the Malayalam media industry, Sindhu’s promotion was a well-deserved climb up the ranks. From death threats to verbal sexual abuse, her style of news presentation on Asianet News over the past 14 years, has made many uncomfortable, but equally increased her fan base.
This simultaneous leadership overhaul, according to sources in the industry, is a rare phenomenon and probably the first of its kind. Most of this could probably be driven by the need to adapt to the changing media landscape, revamp content and regular job changes. Unni Balakrishnan, for example, had been with Mathrubhumi TV since its inception and helmed it for 10 years.
The buzz of political pressure also runs a parallel course amid these changes. However, many of the editors TNM spoke to denied this, a few did not completely rule out the possibility.
Though Asianet News is owned by BJP leader Rajeev Chandrasekhar, it has often come under attack from the BJP for its coverage. For example, in March 2020, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting took Asianet News and MediaOne off the air for 48 hours, for their alleged distorted coverage of the Delhi riots in February 2020 and for being critical of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Delhi Police, which fall under the jurisdiction of the Union Home Ministry.
In July 2020, the CPI(M) party decided to boycott Asianet News debates, citing the party representatives were being constantly interrupted with questions from the anchor while giving more airtime to other parties. At the time, editor MG Radhakrishnan defended its stance, stating that the anchor questioned the CPI(M) leaders more than other parties, as the Left was the ruling government.
Similarly, in May 2021, Asianet News was criticised for “ignoring” the post-Assembly polls violence in West Bengal, during which, two BJP workers were killed. Former Union Minister V Muraleedharan banned Asianet News reporters from a press conference. Many BJP supporters called for the boycotting of the channel after an audio clip of a journalist’s remarks on the violence to a pro-BJP caller went viral.
It was amid all this that Asianet brought Manoj K Das on board, to head all properties owned by the group. MG Radhakrishnan, who has been a journalist for four decades and was helming the television channel until then, stepped down. Two senior journalists working in the channel told TNM that the leadership change has not caused any changes in the editorial or ways in which they function yet.
In Mathrubhumi’s case, in September 2018, its weekly Malayalam magazine drew flak for publishing an excerpt from a Malayalam novel titled ‘Meesha’ (Moustache), by Kerala Sahitya Akademi Award-winner S Harish. Right-wing groups slammed the weekly for carrying an excerpt that reportedly portrayed Hindu women as “sex objects.” Following growing criticisms, Kamalram Sajeev, the editor of Mathrubhumi Weekly editor, stepped down.
Mathrubhumi — run by MV Shreyams Kumar, leader of Loktantrik Janata Dal (an ally of the CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front) in Kerala — has also previously come under fire from Hindutva and Muslim groups.
One of the editors who feature on this list told TNM that all kinds of pressures have been building on editors, not just political. “There is definitely more political pressure on all editors in recent times, but that is because political parties are more organised online and they don't need traditional media anymore. Why just political parties! There is pressure from religious groups and many others, which has become a part of the job,” the editor said.
He added that there was no external pressure behind his resignation though there were rumours of the same. “I was quite disappointed that people wrote about me without reaching out to me.”
Another editor, however, felt that politics does play at least a small role in these changes. “Certainly, politics has played a role in these changes,” he said and pointed to how various political parties have been uncomfortable with their critics over certain periods of time.