By: George L. Garrigues
Cold War’s end signals shift of focus for Inter Press Service sp.
INTER PRESS SERVICE, which for almost three decades has prided itself on being a Third World news agency, is becoming more of a supplemental service for mainstream media in what managing director Roberto Savio called “a transition process from the old to the new.”
“I do not think I have seen such a difficult and complicated moment,” he said in a memo circulated recently to IPS offices. The nonprofit news agency claims 1,000 subscribers worldwide.
And managing editor Michael Keats said the agency’s editorial purpose is to provide a supplemental service, mostly features, about issues affecting the developing world.
Savio’s memo said the end of communism has made the agency’s old goal as obsolete as the concept of a Third World itself.
“With the fall of the Berlin Wall, a new process of realignment was activated, in which the Third World lost its strategic importance which stemmed from East-West confrontation,” said Savio, who founded the agency 30 years ago.
The fall of communism, Savio wrote, has cut the IPS’s funding because wealthy countries are no longer allocating money for development aid, some of which is funneled to IPS. He called the funding decline “widespread and in some cases dramatic, like in Italy, Finland and Canada.”
Keats said, “IPS can’t survive on the income from sales,” so it engages in development projects like the training of journalists, supported by government organizations like the Canadian International Development Agency or Noraid of the Scandinavian countries, or the European Union, which finances training programs in Africa and Arabic countries. An administrative fee is built in to cover overhead.
“But nobody tells us what to write or to put on the wire,” he insisted.
IPS receives funds from a lottery on behalf of international development agencies and fees from putting together ad hoc newspapers or bulletins for various international conferences. Successful newspapers were produced at the environmental summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 and at the United Nations International Conference on Human Rights in Vienna last year. Plans are under way to service a world population conference in Egypt in September.
Still, next year should see “the commencement of a gradual recovery of projects and funds from the international aid agencies,” Savio wrote. What’s more, the agency will celebrate its 30th anniversary Nov. 1 at U.N. headquarters in New York, “a sign of recognition that for many years was difficult for us to obtain.”
IPS, which calls itself the world’s sixth largest news service, has long insisted it reports Third World news with more objectivity than other news agencies.
A survey last year by C. Anthony Giffard of the School of Communications at the University of Washington found that IPS filed significantly more on culture, development, the environment, human rights and social issues than did AP and Reuters, whose combined filings showed more emphasis on crime, the military, politics, international news and political violence.
Keats said in an interview at IPS editorial headquarters in Amsterdam that many IPS stories are picked up by the larger agencies.
“We had the story about the cellist playing on the streets of Sarajevo before anybody else,” he said by way of example. “We also played up the Muslim fatwa against a female author ? ? la Salman Rushdie ? in Bangladesh.”
Other IPS stories move into the news mainstream when agency correspondents notice an IPS story in an African or Asian paper, he said.
Keats, an Australian, began his news career at 17 as a copyboy with a Melbourne news agency, and was a reporter with the now-defunct Brisbane Telegraph. He joined United Press in 1956 and worked in London, Madrid, Johannesburg, Salisbury (now Harare), Beirut and Hong Kong, where he was UPI’s vice president for Asia. He took time out in the 1980s to work for the Melbourne Age in Hong Kong, then went back to UPI and for two years was international vice president, based in Washington.
When UPI went bankrupt in 1991, he became a press officer for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, working in Africa and the former Yugoslavia. Now 59, he has been the top editorial executive at IPS for the past two years.
In Amsterdam he is helped by Gustavo “Pepe” Capdevila of Argentina and Fitzroy Nation of Jamaica, the assistant managing editors. In the sunny office, a television set is tuned to CNN, though Keats says he prefers the BBC’s world coverage when that channel is broadcasting.
One floor below is the bustling European news desk, headed by Rohan Jayasekera, a Briton whose father is Sri Lankan. Also in the building is IPS Europe, a local nonprofit foundation governed by an executive committee composed of people from Austria, the Netherlands, Norway, Italy, Spain, Britain and Russia.
Translation into Dutch is done in the building for 14 newspaper clients. In Europe there are also translation and sales bureaus in Germany, Finland, Sweden and Norway. They are important in finding the right client for IPS stories, Keats said.
“For example, our Swedish office noticed a story on gays in Zimbabwe and flogged it to a Swedish gay paper for a hundred bucks.”
A similar job is done in North America by the Global Information Service in New York.
Other IPS regional centers are in Harare, Zimbabwe, where Obinna Anyadike, a Briton of Nigerian descent, is the regional editor, and in Manila, under Kunda Dixit of Nepal. Debra Anthony is regional editor in Kingston, Jamaica, her home country. The regional editorship in South America is vacant as the desk there is in the process of moving from San Jose, Costa Rica, to Montevideo, Uruguay. The regional director for North America is Italian Marco Napoli, based at the United Nations, and the bureau chief and regional editor is Jim Lobe, an American based in Washington, D.C. IPS’s administrative offices are in Rome and the legal headquarters are in Panama City.
?( Garrigues, former chairman of communications at Lincoln University, Jefferson City, Mo., has been a volunteer journalist for the Global Information Network.) [Caption]