A syndicate backed by three Bengaluru-based billionaires and consisting of at least 10 other wealthy Indians has registered a trust that will fund independent digital media companies which pursue quality and responsible journalism.
The Bengaluru-based Independent and Public Spirited Media Trust with a starting corpus of Rs 100 crore has been anchored by billionaire Wipro chairman Azim Premji and philanthropist Rohini Nilekani, the wife of Infosys co-founder Nandan Nilekani.
“It will invest in and make grants in the independent and public spirited media space and, hopefully, also invent in the ecosystem around independent media,” Rohini Nilekani said in an emailed statement to The Sunday Express. A former journalist herself, she has committed Rs 30 crore to the trust. She added, “On behalf of many donors, I can say that we hope it will create a sustainable space to foster great reporting and coverage, especially in the digital space that allows for a deeper discourse in our democracy.”
Months of out-of-sight groundwork have resulted in the formation of the trust, an intermediary institution. Its support for independent media will be pioneering as India has never seen public-funded independent media entities of the likes of public-funded non-profit National Public Radio in the United States or the public-funded public service British Broadcasting Corporation in the United Kingdom.
“We are backing measured, balanced and responsible reporting instead of propaganda, one-sided opinions and scare-mongering,” another Bengaluru billionaire Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, chairman & MD of biotechnology firm Biocon, said. Among the other billionaire backers is Vikram Lal of the Delhi-based Eicher Motors, makers of the Royal Enfield motorcycles.
The Trust is the first concerted endeavour to fund online media ventures in a country where burgeoning mainstream print media and television firms are backed by corporate houses which is seen as a conflict of interest and antithetical to free and fair reporting. Meanwhile, India’s digital media scene is exploding with many independent, entrepreneur-backed ventures. .
The Nilekani couple has directly supported independent media ventures such as the peer-reviewed academic journal, Economic & Political Weekly, and the rural dialect newspaper, Khabar Lehariya.
The other philanthropists in the newly-formed syndicate are backing media ventures for the first time. However, none of the backers will have a direct say in which digital ventures the Trust can back. “The funders will not run it, all funders will have a hands-off approach,” said Anurag Behar, CEO of the Azim Premji Foundation.
That will be decided by the Trust’s chief executive officer and a search is currently on to recruit one. It will be governed by a board including the likes of private equity investor and philanthropist Ashish Dhawan, former chairman of market regulator Sebi CB Bhave and historian-author Ramachandra Guha
which will be chaired by journalist TN Ninan, chairman of the newspaper firm, Business Standard.
The Trust will begin operations by launching its website in the coming days but the start of actual operations is still months away. For instance, while about a dozen philanthropists have committed to making donations, the first grant is still to be made.