Sharper reporting on NGOs needed

IN Media Practice | 12/08/2002
Sharper reporting on NGOs needed

Sharper reporting on NGOs needed

There are many issues pertaining to and arising from the functioning of NGOs which are worthy of greater focus.We need more balanced and incisive media coverage of this sector.





Lalitha Sridhar



Non Government Organizations (NGOs) and their substantial contribution to the many endemic problems India faces are about the only area where the media reports frequently and inspiringly on issues that matter. We are cheered and moved by the commitment and sheer hard work put in by those countless - and mostly nameless - activists/social workers who dedicate their lives to causes which are often larger than individuals and institutions. That, however, is the visible, brighter side of the coin. What lies on the other side? Do we - and should we not - have the will to find out?

There are many issues pertaining to and arising from the functioning of NGOs which are worthy of greater focus. Today, most of the reporting on the work of NGOs tends to be laudatory and follows a set pattern of highlighting selfless determination and heartwarming achievements. Like most of my tribe, I too remain a superficial spectator who happens to write about what she is told. In view of the fact that this country has close to 8,000 NGOs spearheading reforms in virtually every sector, even as they handle substantial funds, it appears more than a little discouraging to note that no incisive mainstream writing is to be found on the larger, macro-perspectives common to all these organizations.


Reporting Red-tapism : It is all but taken for granted that NGOs in India face all the usual hassles inflicted by a boorish babudom. What are the draconian processes which hinder their smooth functioning and distract their workers in an unwarranted fashion? It is essential that NGO initiatives which are crucial to many core development issues should not be bogged down by time-consuming paperwork and irrelevant requirements. Can not media coverage of needless, regulatory red-tapism address the need to explore viable alternatives?

Exploiting the Exploited : This writer was once an invitee on a naval trip-on-a-ship jamboree to which a hundred odd children belonging to an orphanage, affiliated to a famous nodal funding body, were invited. The parent organisation’s popularity and credentials were impeccable but the beneficiary institution could not be termed beyond reproach. At the height of summer, the children, every single one of them, were brought minus any footwear whatsoever. They were uniformly dressed in rags in what appeared to be an exercise in laying their dignity to tatters. Their chaperones loudly requested that some food be served for their hungry dozens and went on to the larger, lead ship, abandoning half the children with no escort to the vessel which brought up the rear. Over a long day of seasickness and sunburn, there was not a soul in sight to supervise and educate the children, some of whom fell asleep on the burning deck. At the penultimate press meet, the children parroted what were obviously rehearsed answers. The language was formal and non-colloquial; only specific children were invited to speak. Sample : (hand taken pleadingly) "Akka, you must help us. The orphanage people are very good but sometimes we are hungry because there isn’t enough food." The following morning’s media reports showered accolades on both the NGO and the Navy, while one was left wondering who would look into the thoughts of the forgotten key players - the children.

In another example, there is a branch of a very respected international medical charity operating in Chennai’s outer suburbs which has funds sanctioned for computers but uses only typewriters, even as it shows three workers on its records but has employed only one. In another case, an adoption activist found it impossible to convince a privately run orphanage to find new, permanent homes for its wards. The reason? They needed to show larger numbers in their register in order

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