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Gates Foundation Funds Media Coverage of Itself

Okay, this could be a little awkward.

But it’s not the first time we’ve seen this kind of arrangement; nor will it be the last.

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

The Guardian newspaper in Britain announced today it has launched a new Global Development section on its website, partly funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation — one of the biggest players in global health and development.

Clay Holtzman of the Puget Sound Business Journal just wrote a good blog piece on this latest example of a new trend in how journalism gets funded. The title of the article — Guardian is Gates’ Latest Advocate — is not going to make the journalists at the British newspaper too happy. Oh well.

But this is what the Gates Foundation calls the money it gives to media organizations, advocacy.

Journalists, and news organizations, like to claim they don’t advocate. So why are we accepting advocacy money to cover global health and development issues from an organization with an agenda in all this?

NPR has taken money from the Gates Foundation to cover global health. So has PBS NewsHour, PRI’s The World and a number of other media.

And who knows, maybe my new employer KPLU will also try to wrangle some money for this site as well? That’s what they (oh, I mean we) do here at NPR affiliates, isn’t it? We ask for pledges, underwriters. (I think I’m supposed to pretend I don’t consider this as I objectively scribble away ….)

When I was a newspaper journalist at the Seattle Post Intelligencer, I used to point out the potential conflict-of-interest inherent in these kind of deals. I could claim to be “pure” because the PI supported journalism by selling ads of women’s underwear, teeth-whitening services and professional sports (though advertising for the sports industry was often confused as news reporting).

Anyway, stay tuned. And pay attention. The only way to make sure this works is if the public keeps both media organizations and the organizations that fund them accountable.


About Author

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] or follow him on Twitter @tompaulson.