A long-standing former chief editor and publisher of one of India’s largest newspapers, Malayala Manorama, a former president of the Indian Newspaper Society, former chairman of Press Trust of India, founder-trustee and chairman of the Press Institute of India and Research Institute for Newspaper Development, a member of the executive committee of the Federation of International Newspaper Publishers and Editors based in France and a consultant of the International Press Institute. The late K M Mathew occupied many important positions in the world of Indian journalism. However, he will always be remembered as the most respected and successful journalist and publisher in India’s most literate state, Kerala. Passing away over the weekend at his home in Kerala at the ripe age of 93, the late K M Mathew has left behind a media empire that spans the world of print and electronic media — newspapers, magazines, internet editions, television channels and the works. Under his stewardship, Malayala Manorama grew to print 17 editions and the group’s publications included dozens of titles in Malayalam, English and Hindi. His achievements, and those of the publishing group, are all the more impressive given the highly competitive and politically conscious media market in Kerala.
Given the record of its performance, the quality and cosmopolitanism of its editorial and managerial leadership, it is surprising that Malayala Manorama did not make much of an impact outside the home state of Kerala. Indeed, few newspaper groups from non-metro centres have been able to go national. This is not always for want of trying. Malayala Manorama launched a weekly English newsmagazine that was unable to give its New Delhi-based rivals a run for their money. In new media, including television, few regional media groups have been able to acquire a national footprint. On the other hand, large metropolitan-based media groups have, in fact, bought into regional media, thereby diluting the decentralised character of Indian media. Growing concentration of revenue and power in the media is not a healthy development and public policy must grapple with the challenge. Policies that protect competition, discourage oligopolistic trade practices, punish the selling of news space, what has come to be called “paid news”, and so on are becoming increasingly necessary to ensure diversity of ownership and opinion in the media. A worrying trend in media is, of course, the blurring of the lines between editorial and management. Owner-publishers have been editors for a long time, and more recently editors are doubling as publishers or CEOs. The late K M Mathew set high standards of professionalism among owner-editors that others could emulate to their benefit, even if he didn’t empower professional journalists as much as he could have.