In the Grand Ballroom of the Abad Plaza Hotel in Cochin, India, three men, each equipped with expertise on the media and politics in India, sat on a panel discussion, ready to impart their knowledge on an audience of eager Semester at Sea students, each equipped with wide-eyes, pens, and notebooks.
Two of the men, Manoj Das and Babu Joseph, work for the Cochin branch of the Times of India, India’s largest circulation English-language daily newspaper. In fact, in terms of readership, it is the largest English-language newspaper in the world. The paper boasts over 75 million readers, a high number attributed to Indian culture, which is still heavily invested in physical newspapers.
Newspapers in India enjoy freedom from government control. While the Indian constitution makes no specific reference to the press, it does guarantee freedom of speech and expression to all people. These rights have been extended to the media.
Because of their independence from the state, Indian newspapers are generally considered trustworthy, and most of the country still depends on them for news. There is little apprehension that newspapers will decline any time in the near future.
Since newspapers are so engrained in society, being a journalist in India is a unique experience, Das, the Resident Editor of the Times of India in Cochin, told students. They are allowed to work in freedom and certainty, with knowledge that their job is secure.
“I always found that India, especially Kerala, is a journalist’s delight, “he said. “No two days are the same, every day is different.”
Kerala, the state home to Cochin, consumes news even more vigorously than the rest of the country, the panelists said.
“There is a habit of reading newspapers in Kerala,” Joseph, a journalist who started the first Business News bulletin in the state, said. “It is a part of their life.”
Kerala is distinct not only for its prevalent newspaper readership. The state is the wealthiest in India, and boasts the highest life expectancy rate in the country and a higher literacy rate than the United States. But what is perhaps the most distinguishing characteristic of Kerala is that it is a Communist party stronghold.
The Communist movement in India started several decades ago after India declared its independence from British colonialism. While communism is confined to a few specific areas in India, it enjoys the most popularity in Kerala. It is the first state to have ever democratically elected the Communist party into office.
“Kerala became a fertile land for the growth of communism,” Sebastian Paul, a veteran journalist and former Member of Parliament, said. “They elected a communist government in 1957 after Kerala first became a state.”
Paul, the third participant in the panel, is a communist, although he identifies as socialist. He noted that since the initial election put it into power, the party has been elected every other election cycle. Elections are held every five years, and will be taking place in April or May of this year.
Paul also told students that the media plays an important role in the popularity of any political party in India, including the communist party.
“We are a very media-addicted and media-controlled people,” he said.
The communist party, which is extremely wealthy, exercises substantial media control. Das added that in Kerala, the party owns their own newspaper, as well as two television channels.
“Their media lets them spread their influence to keep people together,” Das said.
But the goals of the communist party, and Indian government, go beyond exercising media influence, Paul noted.
“In India, the majority of people are poor, downtrodden, exploited,” he said. “Poverty is a reality here.”
Currently, the Indian Parliament is trying actively to eliminate inequality in the country, while working within the democratic framework.
“Our constitution ensures justice, and one kind of justice is economic justice,” he said. “So we are trying to reduce the disparity between people.”