Inter Press Service (IPS) is a global news agency. Its main focus is the production of independent news and analysis about events and processes affecting economic, social and political development. The agency largely covers news on the Global South, civil society, and globalization.
Inter Press Service was set up in 1964 as a non-profit international cooperative of journalists. Its founders were the Italian journalist Roberto Savio and the Argentine political scientist Pablo Piacentini. Initially, the primary objective of IPS was to fill the information gap between Europe and Latin America after the political turbulence following the Cuban revolution of 1959 (Giffard in Salwen and Garrison, 1991).
Later, the network expanded to include all continents, beginning with a Latin American base in Costa Rica in 1982, and extended its editorial focus. In 1994, IPS changed its legal status to that of a "public-benefit organization for development cooperation".
In 1996 IPS had permanent offices and correspondents in 41 countries, covering 108 nations. It had as subscribers over 600 print media, around 80 news agencies and database services, and 65 broadcast media, in addition to over 500 NGOs and institutions.
IPS’s stated aims are to give prominence to the voices of marginalized and vulnerable people and groups, report from the perspectives of developing countries, and to reflect the views of civil society. The mainstreaming of gender in reporting and the assessment of the impacts of globalization are a priority.
In order to reach this aim, IPS does not lay claim to providing "spot news", but instead to producing well-researched features and reports that give background information, and covering processes rather than events.
IPS may be unique in its concentration on developing countries and the strong relationships with civil society. For this reason, IPS has even been termed the probably "largest and most credible of all 'alternatives' in the world of news agencies" (Boyd-Barrett and Rantanen, 1998: 174/5), being the "first and only independent and professional news agency which provides on a daily basis information with a Third World focus and point of view" (Boyd-Barrett and Thussu, 1992: 94; cf. Giffard, 1998: 191; Fenby, 1986).
Despite all the laudable aims, it is, however, important to see that IPS has never possessed the resources to be a major player in the international media landscape. Because of its focus on longer background pieces instead of concise news, it has at most a marginal status as news provider for mainstream media in developed countries.
IPS is registered as an international not-for-profit association. It has 'general' NGO consultative status with ECOSOC at the United Nations, and the OECD status of "ODA eligible international organization".
Five editorial desks coordinate the network of journalists around the world: Montevideo (regional bureau for Latin America), Berlin-London (Europe and the Mediterranean), Bangkok (Asia and the Pacific), New York (North America and the Caribbean) and Johannesburg (Africa). Most of IPS's journalists and editors are native to the country or region in which they are working.
IPS receives funding from various sources: through its subscribers and media clients, as beneficiary of multilateral and national development cooperation programmes, and as recipient of project financing from foundations. It is not, as most other agencies, financed by a country or a group of newspapers. Hence, the agency’s budget is comparatively small. Still it manages to be "roughly the sixth largest international news-gathering organization" (Rauch, 2003: 89).
Traditional and new media as well as civil society and UN organizations are among IPS's client base. For individuals, the daily news service is available online in and , and in the translations to 10 additional languages (, , , , , , , , , and ).
IPS publishes the newsletters on specific occasions such as UN conferences or the World Social Forum. Apart from its news services, IPS provides training for journalists and is involved in project partnerships with civil society organizations and movements.
IPS's role in the mediascape
The actual role of IPS in the international mediascape is hard to assess. Clipping services are expensive, and do not exist in many countries where IPS is strong. Additionally, in some countries news agencies are not credited in bylines. One study by the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization for media coverage of the FAO in 1991 found that of the nearly 3000 clippings with news agency bylines, 13% credited IPS, making it the third-most cited agency. IPS reports were collected from 138 different publications in 39 countries - more countries than any other agency. IPS was particularly strong in Latin America - 72% of clippings from Latin America with news agency bylines came from IPS.
Impact is limited by factors such as:
- IPS's limited financial resources;
- its inability to cover all countries with an appropriate number of correspondents (in many countries, IPS only employs stringers);
- because of the two aforementioned limitations, IPS can only provide a scattered coverage about regions and issues, and is often unable to produce timely news and follow-ups;
- IPS's focus on background news "is not particularly attractive to market-driven commercial media" (Giffard, 1998: 200).
However, it seems that IPS has played a significant part in shaping the modern media and their news. Some of its structural innovations have been adopted by other international media organizations, most notably regarding the employment of local journalists for the coverage of developing countries. Furthermore, IPS claims to have led the way to a particular style of news (by demonstrating that in-depth analysis is as much part of the news as immediate coverage of the "facts") and to raising awareness about less "newsworthy" topics, such as poverty or the environment.
Even if IPS's direct outreach is rather limited, it plays an important role in providing background news to journalists, decision makers from governments and UN institutions, and civil society organizations.
In recent cases, IPS exercised direct influence on the mainstream media agenda:
- Following the bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma in 1995, the U.S. media blamed Arab terrorists. IPS was the first news outlet to maintain that white U.S. Americans from the ultraright had in fact committed the bombings. The assertion was finally confirmed and accepted by the mainstream media.
- IPS was the first to announce that the existence of asbestos worsened the contamination related to the 9/11 destruction of the World Trade Center in New York and the clearance works of Ground Zero. It led the way in consistently informing about the resulting health risks as well as the fact that most clearance workers were undocumented immigrants, who were not entitled to health compensation and got paid inadequately.
- Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy: the international mainstream news picked up the controversy surrounding the publication of these cartoons in a Danish newspaper in February 2006, while IPS had already reported on Islamic organizations' protests against them in November 2005.