A $1.5-million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to ABC News has led some observers to wonder why the philanthropy is helping a for-profit news organization.
The grant is also raising further questions about the Seattle foundation’s growing involvement in journalism.
The financial commitment from Gates, announced last week, is helping ABC News conduct a yearlong report on global health, a primary focus of the foundation’s work. The news outlet is putting up $4.5-million.
But Marc Cooper, a journalist and faculty member at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communications and Journalism, says it’s “grotesque” that ABC News—which is owned by Disney and reportedly pays anchor Diane Sawyer a salary of at least $12-million—is taking money from Gates.
He also questions why the Gates foundation is giving that money to ABC News, rather than directly to the health projects that ABC will be discussing in its reporting.
As Mr. Cooper then notes, this criticism “doesn’t even address the possible issue of conflict of interest.” He asks: Will the ABC News coverage look into possible corruption or inefficiencies in Gates-backed projects?
Mr. Cooper says he doesn’t think so. And other observers who have noted the foundation’s growing interest in backing news-media projects continue to raise similar questions.
The Columbia Journalism Review has published two articles on the Gates foundation’s growing support of news-media organizations, the second of which discusses grants to ABC and to the Guardian, the British newspaper that recently unveiled a new section on global poverty co-sponsored by the Gates foundation.
Robert Fortner, the article’s author, says that despite agreements in both cases that the news outlets will have editorial independence, there are “reasons to worry.”
The Guardian‘s special coverage of global development doesn’t appear in the paper’s news section, Mr. Fortner writes, sowing confusion among readers about whether it is straight journalism or advocacy.
Although the Guardian recently raised questions about the Gates foundation’s approach to agriculture, and its financial investments in the agribusiness Monsanto, much of the newspaper’s coverage of Gates has been fawning, Mr. Fortner says.
In the first article of the series, Mr. Fortner alleges bias in how the Kaiser Family Foundation selects news articles for its daily online digest of stories on global health, which the Gates foundation supports.
He concludes: “The effect, intentional or not, of Gates funding of the Guardian and other media organizations is to reduce coverage that holds the foundation accountable, even as Melinda Gates maintains that such criticism is welcome and beneficial. ”
What do you think of the Gates grant to ABC News? Do you think the foundation’s financial backing of news-media organizations will result in fewer stories that hold the grant maker accountable? And is it a wise use of the foundation’s money to support journalism efforts?