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Philanthropic journalism

Originally published on Nepali Times | Nepali Times partners with the HELP NEPAL Network to support Nepalis in need.

The announcement today that this newspaper will support and promote the HELP NEPAL Network marks a new beginning for the Nepali media. The fourth estate is usually reluctant to incorporate charity into its regular activities.
Nepali Times is changing this with its association with the HELP NEPAL Network’s ‘One Dollar a Month Fund for Nepal’. This is the largest network of Nepalis that tries to involve Nepali individuals and institutions in philanthropy. HELP NEPAL tries to get people to contribute a small portion of their earnings for the benefit of those who genuinely need support.

This ‘Practical Philanthropy’ approach does not really burden the individual who gives, but will greatly benefit disadvantaged communities. Since 1999, the Network has established chapters in 14 countries and completed more than 70 education and health projects in rural Nepal. Not a single paisa of donations received is spent on overheads, as all administrative costs are met by a separate Endowment Fund set up by generous Nepalis like Siddhartha Rana, who has contributed Rs 10 million.

After working with and being trained by some of the world’s best journalists for over 15 years, I feel that the media’s obsession with politics and human misery is not fully reflective of that core value of journalism: public service. Decades of reporting disasters, deaths, human misery, violence and conflict have not always helped bring about positive change in society.

The idea of ‘development journalism’ in the early 1970s was a reaction to this, and tried to encourage journalists to go beyond everyday stories and come up with facts that would help policymakers address issues like poverty and inequity. In the early 1990s, the concept evolved into ‘public journalism’. Practitioners wanted to engage the public in meaningful debate to help them resolve their problems. Both movements were attempts to achieve the ‘public service’ goal of journalism.

‘Philanthropic journalism’ goes a step further; it requires journalists to adopt philanthropy as one of the foundation stones of their profession. Many would argue that this is not the job of the press. Fair enough, but the press is not a political organisation either, obsessed with the corridors of power. Politics is central to society, no doubt, but philanthropy forms the foundation of all good politics and creates a cultured and humane society.

Philanthropy is not just about giving money occasionally, it is about humanity, honesty, individual social responsibility and caring for those who can’t care for themselves. Society can’t flourish without a cultivated sense of philanthropy. However, the media’s neurotic focus on politics and misery has not always served those who really matter.

Journalists can no longer be just catalysts for gossip, they have to be catalysts for change. Journalism must try to find a balance between covering politics and helping society. Leading newspapers often publish pictures of dilapidated school buildings, but rarely is there an accompanying attempt to encourage a direct remedy. Would it be wrong if those newspapers were to put a note under those pictures to fundraise for the reconstruction of the schools?

Similarly, if each of the nearly 300 FM stations across Nepal were to decide to build just one library each every year within their broadcast areas, nearly 300 libraries would be built every twelve months. It would be much better for them to take the initiative themselves rather than just report on the lack of community libraries and expect the government or a donor to help. Merely reporting the absence of a library is an example of ‘development’ or ‘public’ journalism. Taking the lead to help to build a library is ‘philanthropic journalism’.

This is not about mission journalism, it is about becoming more sincere about the media’s core values. Just like entertainment, environment and sports, the media should carry a separate section for philanthropy. It should aspire to ensure that this section becomes the most read and talked about, and provides the most uplifting reading.

The press has the power to generate support, unite communities, and inspire them to act for real, positive change. Few individuals or institutions in society have that power and privilege. It is pointless just to talk and complain for years on end, and never act.

I welcome the initiative taken by Nepali Times. Imagine if every major national newspaper were to adopt a charity of its choice and promote it. Imagine the potential it could unleash. Journalism can be a driving force for fundamental change, to make people’s lives better, and to help transform society.

Rabindra Mishra works with the BBC World Service and is the founder president of HELP NEPAL Network.

You can read more of Mishra’s column-essays on his three books, Raajnitisangai Raajkaaj, Khana Pugos Dina Pugos and Bhumadhyarekha. Please go to the BOOKS section to find out more about the books and where to purchase them.

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