I was fascinated to find a lot many new online news media projects in India, especially during the last three years. But I found that this development is mainly due to the heavy "impact funding" by Pierre Omidyar, the founder of eBay, now a billionaire. He has invested in media firms such as Scroll.in. His investment/philanthropy covers many for-profit and non-profit organisations. A cursory analysis brings out a fact that he has divided his fund flow equally. So far, he has distributed around $ 1 billion. He is yet to share $ 8 billion.
Omidyar does not seem to have a clear pattern in funding projects. His arm, Omidyar Network, is transparent enough to share funding patterns of few, but opaque enough to hide many. But it has clearly declared that political activism is part of the funding. Here comes the issue.
As far as my research goes:
1. Almost all the media projects funded by Omidyar have 'leftist leanings'. There is no link to the cultural and heritage of the place, and all issues are looked through western liberal lenses. I am not against any ideology, but I strongly say that such ideologies have failed in earlier times across the world.
2. Many projects are for-profit ones, leading to many socially disruptive technologies. How far this disruption is positive or negative, I am not sure.
3. The network has invested in similar projects in Ukraine, Sudan, Malaysia, Nigeria, Chile, Sri Lanka and many countries.
4. This "impact funding" (impact investing refers to investments made into companies, organizations, and funds with the intention to generate a measurable, beneficial social or environmental impact alongside (or in lieu of) a financial return) is not just for developmental activities, but for activism too.
I agree that India faces a lot of social, political, economic and other challenges. There is an urgent need to address all these. But at what cost? Should we always look forward for Omidyar network to select a case and fund? Real social work should involve local people and local resources.
There are hundreds of NGOs in Bengaluru, which have never taken funding from any external agency. At the same time, their locations are not so glaring. What they do is just manage with minimal infrastructure to sustain a social responsibility, and spend more on actual requirement. But the Omidyar supported organisations spend massively on research, advocacy and high decibel public campaign. It makes us believe that only Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR, adrindia.org funded by Omidyar) is the sole watchdog of politicians, while we have Anna Hazare who has toiled for decades to build a social movement. He could not sustain the movement against corruption, as his followers deserted him. His fight against corrupt politicians in Maharashtra is totally forgotten.
Most importantly, left-liberals have boarded this Omidyar funding ship. They were all scattered following the BJP's massive win in the last Lok Sabha elections. Now, they have joined these Omidyar connected platforms on a large scale. Forgetting their root level activism, they have begun ideological war against "rightist forces". This is nothing short of capitalistic left-liberalism, a mutated form of socialism.
Omidyar has covered most of the topics that could be harvested fully in India. Apart from Scroll.in, he runs/invested in Change.org, an online petition forum; Quikr.org, online buy and sell platform; Paypal, an online payment gateway which is used on a large scale by e-Bay (thus generating massive revenue); IndusOs (indusos.com); news portal Newslaundry.com and many others.
If Omidyar was serious on human rights, he could have aligned with Julian Assange, the embattling Wikileaks founder. But Omidyar chose to cut of Paypal connectivity to Wikileaks donations, and supported Glen Greenwald of Snowden papers fame. This certainly shows that Omidyar has some political agenda in supporting socially relevant projects. It is problematic to work with Omidyar, said Alexa O'Brien, the journalist who covered Chelsea Manning case.
This development is also known as "cultural Marxism", which is usually supported by a lone capitalist. The followers of this cult will roam around the globe, attend seminars and produce well researched documents to support their doctrine. An Indian comparison to Omidyar could be found in Independent and Public Spirited Media Foundation (ipsmf.org). IPSMF has funded projects like The Wire, The Better India, IndiaSpend, Livelaw, Cgnet Swara, Gaon Connection etc. Ramachandra Guha, a member of IPSMF, is a columnist in the Scroll.in which in turn is funded by Omidyar Network.
The list of funded projects in India is available here: https://www.omidyar.com/investees
The overall impact of this development is multi-dimensional:
-It impacts youth on a large scale. Since the youth are always online, they are forced to accept what is being fed in these portals, rather than studying the issues in depth using other traditional sources. Only topical political, social issues are raised.
- India will lose its freedom to adjudicate its own issues, using its own resources. While such NGOs shout about protecting right to keep seed (against the attempt of MNCs to take control of the seed business by introducing high yielding GM varieties) and allow our farmers to decide, demand that panchayat raj institutions should be provided more independence in financial matters, urge to keep local traditions alive, taking massive funds from outside does not fit their own argument. India needs to tackle its problems locally. What I mean is "desi" solution to a "desi" problem.
- Aggressive media campaigns by such biased (as these media houses never represent a neutral view but only the one which was being pursued by the leftists all along), media houses will affect the judgement of the public. This may impact the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, at least in a small way.
The overall impact fund, including Omidyar Network was around $ 501 crores till 2017. It is estimated that this figure will cross $800 crores by 2025. Hence, we can't sit idle here.
Without being too judgmental, I demand that there should be a public debate on this new development. The people of India should be left to themselves in taking a decision on their political and societal issues. Otherwise, hegemony of capitalistic liberal organisations in India cannot be ruled out.
Indians should turn to cooperative mode to establish an independent media platform, as the present media (print, TV and online) is also equally corporatised, irrespective of Omidyar. A diverse country like India should not fall prey to a capitalistic agenda, be it supported by leftists or rightists. India cannot afford this new complexity, which may result in unforeseen situations. I wish the awakened citizenry of India takes a considered call on this important development of our times.