Journalists in Chennai on Wednesday issued a statement condemning the threats to freedom of the press in Tamil Nadu from some “forces of hatred”, who claimed to be “patriots” and “neutral” but operated in a “systematic manner” to undermine the media.

The statement referred to an article in on July 16, condemning the “vicious social media campaign” being carried out against some senior journalists in Tamil Nadu. An individual named M Maridhas has uploaded several YouTube videos denigrating and slandering some journalists working at Tamil TV channels such as News 18 Tamil Nadu, Puthiya Thalaimurai and News 7 Tamil.

The statement said “forces of hatred” were putting a lot of pressure on journalists, subjecting them to “personal and obscene attacks, even involving family members”. “This trend hinders independent media activity,” the statement read. “Police have not yet taken appropriate action on the issue.”

It also called on other journalists and members of the public to confront the problem. “Together with members of the public we must confront the crisis facing freedom of expression, democracy, secularism and pluralism provided by the Indian Constitution,” it said. “As editors and senior journalists we are signing this joint statement in support of this objective.”

Maridhas is a vlogger who runs the YouTube channel Maridhas Answers. Currently, the YouTube channel has over 3.5 lakh subscribers, with some of its videos viewed more than 2 lakh times.

“In one video for example, M Maridhas repeatedly refers to News18’s senior editor M Gunasekaran being the son-in-law of Dravida Kazhagam leader Kali Poongundran, insinuating professional bias on part of the former due to his personal relationship,” the article said. “Similarly, in another video, he shows the family photo of another news anchor and points out his wife and claims she is an ‘atheist’.”

The article said Maridhas, the author of a book called Why I Support Narendra Modi, has made a “baseless” allegation against former News 18 Tamil Nadu Bureau Chief Haseef Mohamed, claiming that he secretly operates a YouTube channel run by rationalists and atheists, making controversial comments on religion and caste. The Bharatiya Janata Party in Tamil Nadu has already filed a complaint, and one person has been detained, it said. The party has also demanded the arrest of Mohamed.

Maridhas has also said that he wrote to News18 Tamil asking it to sack journalists and anchors who are from “atheist or communist backgrounds”, the report said. Maridhas claimed that News18 had told him in an email that it had accepted all its complaints, a claim refuted by the news organisation.

“We call upon everyone to protest against the intimidation of journalists in Tamil Nadu and help preserve the independence of the media and the right to work professionally without being subjected to hate campaigns of any kind,” the article said.

Senior journalists lose positions

On Sunday, reports emerged that News18 had made several changes to its editorial hierarchy. An employee told on condition of anonymity that Mohamed, who was mentioned by Maridhas, was asked to resign. A sub-editor, Ilayabharathi, was also asked to quit for his social media activism. Senthil, another journalist targeted by Maridhas, was removed from hosting a talk show.

Employees of the news channel spoke to said senior editor Gunasekaran has been divested of some powers and has been asked not to take editorial decisions on news coverage.

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