YANGON (March 10, 2014) – Jacob Mathew, executive editor and publisher of the Malayala Manorama newspaper in India, discussed media trends, strategies and freedoms in the digital age in a luncheon address today at the East-West Center International Media Conference in Yangon, Myanmar.
With a 125-year history of publication, Malayala Manorama has a circulation of 2.2 million, reflecting a trend of healthy news consumership in Asia, he said, noting that 27 out of 47 Asian countries have at least a 90 percent literacy rate, and the populations of six of those countries are expected to double in the next 30 years.
Mathew said the challenge newspapers face is still how to make content more engrossing for the reader. “Unique, credible content will always be the winner,” he said.
He noted that publishers must also learn how to use social media to attract more attention and elicit reader response. With the influx of digital media, readers devote less of their time to reading print content, Mathew said.
“Loss of newspaper time is unsurprising in a world that is migrating to digital media,” he said.
Mathew explained that the anonymity of social media often encourages users to post offensive content. “Hate speech is a disease of the warped mind,” Mathew said. “It is not limited to racism.”
Mathew has worked to compile a list of best practices to encourage more civil discourse online, with the goal of fostering “the kind of conversations you would want to have in your living room,” he added.
He said he is concerned that journalists today face “soft censorship,” as governments recognize that harsh punishments such as imprisonment attract international attention. Therefore, many use softer approaches, like financial investigations, to intimidate journalists into self-censorship. “Fear is the archenemy of freedom,” he said.
When journalists censor themselves, humanity suffers in response, he asserted: “The press must offer a space for healthy debate, especially about ethnic and religious conflict.”
A reporter from Pakistan asked about establishing a legal channel for sharing media between Pakistan and India.“I would be happy to support anything that would encourage the sharing of news,” said Mathew, acknowledging the sensitivity between the countries.
Another audience member brought up how local private newspapers do not refer to the Muslim minority living in Myanmar’s Rahkine as Rohingya, their preferred identification. “I would be cautious of publishing something that would cause communal unrest,” Mathew said. “Press freedom requires responsible journalism.”
– Reporting by Cara McClain & photo by Ninh Pham, Missouri School of Journalism