Kerala Catholics regain control of newspaper from Muslim businessman

.- The Catholic Church in the southern India state of Kerala has regained ownership of a 120-year-old local newspaper from a Muslim businessman, UCA News reports.

On December 30 M.A. Pharis, a Muslim, returned his stake in the company that publishes the daily Deepika to the Church.  The newspaper is the oldest daily in the Malayalam language.

Charlie Paul, a Catholic lawyer and Deepika reader, reacted to the news, saying "I'm happy the title [of the company] has been returned to the Church." He said that the newspaper has contributed "immensely" to the growth of the Church in Kerala, but "we realized it only when we lost the title," he told UCA News. "Catholics are emotionally attached to Deepika. I hope the present management would run the newspaper without selfish interests," he added.

The newspaper was founded by the Carmelites of Mary Immaculate in 1887.  In 1989, ownership shifted to Rashtra Deepika Limited, a newly-founded public company.  After a financial crisis, the company’s chairman Bishop Matthew Arackal of Kanjirappally invited Pharis to invest in the company and take over as the chairman.

Father Jose Panthaplamthottiyil, a 56-year-old CMI priest who is the new chief editor of the Rashtra Deepika group of publications, said the Church paid $4.05 million, or 160 million rupees, to Pharis to buy out his shares in the company.

The paper, which has a circulation of 300,000, used to be known for its anti-communist stand.  Under Pharis’ chairmanship the paper began to promote Kerala’s communist government, which has clashed with the Church over several issues. Once the Church realized that the paper was promoting the Communist government it took steps to re-acquire Deepika.

Antony Kuriakose, a bank employee, said the paper "was associated with the cultural history of Kerala and Christian idealism." He said "over a period, the newspaper changed color and policies and lost its consistency." He believed it would be difficult for the newspaper to regain its old readership.

Father Panthaplamthottiyil said the newspaper’s publishing company is planning a series of expansions.  He said he would make Deepika the “moral voice” of Kerala, where 19 percent of its 31.8 million people are Christian.

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