THE 24-hour news cycle is our reality and newspapers now reflect that. When you open your paper or browser online you are bombarded with the most sensationalist news, amongst the advertisements, sponsored links, sports, op-eds, and other miscellaneous banality.
A quick look at four of India’s top English news sites (Times of India, Hindustan Times, The Indian Express, and The Economic Times) shows only one with a proper CSR section, but even that’s hidden under “More”. Besides, the articles actually discussing initiatives, analysis and trends, policy, and “news” are outdated, some as far back as mid-2015. The others have robust business sections, but not one had a prominent story about NGOs or CSR work.
Considering ₹6,338 crore was spent between 2014-15, the first year the “CSR rules” went into effect, and the approximate ₹11,500 crore in foreign funding entering the country annually (as of 2011-12), you’d think that some of the news could reflect what’s happening in the “third sector”, or the social sector between government and corporate. Funds have supported initiatives as wide-reaching as the formal/informal education and livelihoods to urban (slum)/rural development to arts and culture.
The most recent count in 2015 puts the number of NGOs registered under the Societies Registration Act at 31 lakh (not including Karnataka, Odisha, and Telangana or the 82,000 registered in the seven Union Territories). So why don’t we ever hear about the work they are doing?
The go-to narrative states that many Indian NGOs do not fulfil their defined obligations and corruption is rife, thus bringing the mistrust and government crackdowns on themselves. However, a 2010 report claims that, despite the current authority’s scrutiny, NGOs were initially created by the post-independence government to build the nation. The study also found that media mostly reflected them in a positive light. However, they don’t focus on the disparity of coverage.
An industry professional based in Bangalore explained that he believes that “media content is being driven by commercial issues and breaking news” – neither of which fits a human interest narrative on the third sector. Rohit Shetti of SATHI continues:
“At the same time, we face a shortage of good writers and editors in the development sector who can present the work and stories in such a way that it is appealing to a general audience.
“In an age where attention-grabbing by any means necessary is the norm, genuine grassroots workers lack both the bandwidth and resources required to convert their stories into something editors would like.”
However, he points out, this is not the only thing holding NGOs back. “It is not enough to have skilled writers, the commitments of mainstream media editors also play a role. Another factor is the complexity of issues surrounding development issues – whether it is poverty, women’s rights, child protection, or environmental justice – the issues are multi-dimensional and complex. It is quite challenging to be able to get to the core of an issue in a single story.”
Use Your Voice
To build awareness of NGO/CSR work in traditional media outlets, submit opinion pieces in “Letters to the Editor” or “Reader Comments” or, if you work for an NGO, network with your local journalists and share press releases about your successes or work towards solving “hot-topic” societal concerns.
Social media IS the new media – so use it! Promote your favourite organisation’s work with a well-thought out post detailing the impact their work has on the community on Facebook, share a snapshot of their projects on Instagram, or send a well-timed tweet connecting their efforts to a trending topic.
- Give your time, money or skills to causes you care about here.