Vision & Values

The Founding

Independent And Public-Spirited Media Foundation (IPSMF) is registered as a public charitable trust in Bengaluru on July 1, 2015. The Foundation provides financial support and seeks to mentor digital-media entities in creating and disseminating public-interest information borne out of serious and independent journalism. The Foundation has been registered under Section 12AA (a) of the IT Act, 1961 and has been granted approval under section 80G (5) (vi) of the IT Act, 1961.

The Rationale for the Foundation

 

1. The media and the virtual cycle of democracy

The efficacy of a democracy is directly linked to the vibrancy and the freedom of its media. The media is, first and foremost, a watchdog – keeping an eagle eye on the legislature, the executive and the judiciary to examine and record if the pillars of state are acting in consonance with the Constitution, the expressed will of the people and laws established.

“When the three pillars, along with the media, the fourth, play the parts they are mandated, to independently and fearlessly, they segue into a virtuous cycle. Learn more…

When the media reports content with facts at its core, independently and with a social conscience, this integrity enhances the credibility of the media but in the whole ecosystem of democratic institutions. And, thereby in the efficacy and resonance of democracy itself, thus, creating a virtuous cycle between the institutions. This virtuous-cycle is visualised below:

2. The definition of public interest and its ethical foundation
The Foundation has adopted this definition of an ethical journalist as its talisman. Learn more…

“An impartial communicator of important news and views to the public and from the impartial perspective of the public; using responsible and accurate methods of newsgathering, for the sake of a
self-governing citizenship.”

This talisman is underlined by the credo of 1) Facts: from which all interpretation and debate flows; 2) Independent: Free from any pressures other than the lure of pursuing and reporting facts; 3) Socially impactful: Reports facts and stories that are not just facts in abstraction but favourably impact society and the citizens and are potential harbingers of positive change; and, 4) Reach: News and facts serve the largest purpose when they are disseminated to, and accessed by, the largest body of citizens.

3. The erosion in public-interest journalism
There are around 1,14,820 registered publications in India, of which 4,007 were ones registered in 2016-17 alone. That’s a growth of 3.54% over the previous year, according to data released by the Registrar of Newspapers for India. Learn more…

Privately run news and current affairs channels grew from 241 in 2009 to 400 in 2014 and doubled to 882 in May 2017.

But the numbers flatter to deceive on two counts. The changing character of media ownership, and the less than a sustainable revenue stream. While there is a legion of honest journalist and ethical journalism being practised across the length and breadth of India, it is also a sad reality that the journalism as a ‘service’, as a mission, has seemingly and steadily eroded.

More importantly, there has been an infiltration of media entities by corporates, either through direct ownership or by leveraging their advertising pay-outs to be on the board. This injection by the corporate players into the media is usually bereft of any commitment to independent media but more an attempt to use the clout for furthering business interests or for personal aggrandisement.

The print media, which get 70% of their advertising from advertising, are experiencing the worst cycle in a decade. Circulation remains high, but revenue, with inflation factored in, is largely flat. The television media are in worse shape. Industry experts estimate less than 10% of the 882 news channels make profits, a result of low revenues per consumer, inadequate advertising and a complicated, chaotic cable and satellite television market.

This pressure on the bottom line has led to a tendency to narrow the coverage to frivolous or fleeting subjects, the erosion of editorial standards and the flight of quality editorial staff towards greener but non-media or quasi-media destinations. To quote T N Ninan, Chairperson, Board of Trustees, IPSMF: “The institution of the independent editor has almost vanished…the publishers call the shots, and they largely have non-editorial agendas, including Rajya Sabha seats and real-estate deals”. Proving the point, India fell two notches to register an abysmal ranking of 138 out of 180 countries in the annual, 2018 World Press Freedom Index, published by Reporters Without Borders. The 2017 ranking itself was a three-place drop from 2016, establishing a worrying pattern of declining press freedoms in India.

This comes just when India is changing and transforming as never before in history. Along with this change comes the danger of depressed and the marginalised being deprived of the benefits of this change, or being overwhelmed by it. And, therefore, the government’s policies and actions, as well as the changes themselves, call for an objective, hard and deep media scrutiny.

This need for an objective scrutiny means that the press has to be completely free of the pressures and biases that it may come under due to the weight of commercialisation, competing for business interests and even ideologies.

Additionally, the technological ecosystem that has developed which enable new ideas and ventures to be ignited at the highest innovative spectrum but with the lowest cost structures, bot at the level of sourcing of news but also disseminating them to the widest audience possible, the reach.

Auspiciously, the innovations in technology, with the smartphone leading the way, has dovetailed with the freeing of the animal spirits of entrepreneurship and the, of course, the latent talent coursing through the veins of a resurgent India. The way Indians communicate, translate their democratic and social compact, connect to each other and the world will have a deep impact on the nature of the media. From 299 million smartphone users in 2017, the projected increase in the number of users in India is likely to reach 340 million by the end of this year.

By 2022, India’s smartphone users are expected to shoot up to a whopping 442 million. And touch, 500 million in a few years thereafter and alter the media they consume. The unfolding media disruption will come from an ever-growing number of Internet users—increasingly accessing the net from their smartphones—one of the world’s youngest populations and the declining cost of data.

About 337 million Indians are estimated to use a smartphone by end 2018. By 2022, more than 500 million Indians would own a smartphone. Most Indians under the age of 25 get their news primarily from phones, offering a great chance to create digital media brands and properties that could guide and involve these consumers in the virtuous cycle of democracy.

If the inherent talent can be married with the technology of the digital dawn, the possibilities for ‘new’ journalism infused with the highest and purest obligations —and, by extension, a renewal of the social and democratic compact—are immense. But it cannot happen without pro-active intervention.

4. The digital dawn and how philanthropy can renew the virtuous cycle
The ‘intervention’ into supporting public-service media and igniting at least the first steps must largely be borne by private virtue. Learn more…

Private virtue in the service of the larger body of citizens to 1) make citizenship participative by amplifying their voice, 2) concentrate on the online, as that is increasing the media space that a citizen can access, at the least possible cost.

However, the challenge in the online media space is that the revenues are yet to chase eyeballs. In other words, even now while the numbers have moved heavily in favour of the online space, the advertisers are still coagulating around the TV, and to some extent the print. This is bound to change, not only because the numbers around the online ecosystem cannot be ignored any longer, but also because as the news gets increasingly commoditised and trivialised, the long-form and quality will increasingly begin to count. There are already indications, even among our grantees, that they and their readers are ready to invest in quality and independent journalism.

India now has a unique opportunity to create a philanthropy driven ecosystem of media excellence. This ecosystem could support public-interest journalism; influence and complement the mainstream media; help recreate the citizen’s compact with democracy; place, once again, the highest obligations on journalists—and set an example to the world.

5. The Foundation’s Theory of Change

GOAL

Through grants, fund initiatives and actions that create an ecosystem that sets trends; fosters and accelerates excellence in public-interest journalism; influences public debate and policy; informs, influences, challenges and complements the mainstream media; and creates a narrative that empowers individuals and communities to exercise their democratic franchise in a responsible manner. Learn more…

OUTCOMES

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