Gates-funded ABC News series on global health raises $500,000

Several people have noted that the Gates Foundation-funded ABC News’ just-launched year-long series devoted to global health — “Be the Change: Save a Life” — has already raised half a million dollars for some of the causes featured on the television report.

Said ABC:

The response from viewers was overwhelming. In the first week after the special aired, nearly 10,000 people donated more than $500,000 to organizations working on problems highlighted in “Be the Change” ….

Okay, that’s a good thing if taken in isolation. But nothing happens in isolation, of course.

Part of the potential problem here has to do with the common practice of media, especially television, doing fund-raising for particular organizations.  ABC News isn’t just mentioning a few organizations as part of its reporting. The TV network has actually set up a fund-raising website featuring select causes.

As nice as that sounds, it’s advocacy rather than reporting. Have they vetted all these organizations? What about the fact that they are selecting causes and can’t do fund-raising for all causes? Some think journalists shouldn’t do any such promotional fund-raising. I tend to agree, but it is debatable.

Another problem is one of attitude, as Tom Murphy says at his excellent blog, A View from the Cave:

However, the theme of “Whites in Shining Armor” persists and that is a bit troubling (“We’ll be back with more smiles for more kids around the world in a moment,” says Sawyer going to commercial break ).  I can only hope that this will shift throughout the series.

And, as I have noted here on this blog, there is the potential problem of ABC News tending to assume the Gates Foundation’s view of global health is THE view of global health. You can read what I’ve said about that, and about the Seattle philanthropy’s approach in general to media partnerships here.

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Tom Paulson

Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom[at]humanosphere.org or follow him on Twitter @tompaulson.