Nonprofit Newswire | Game Changer? Gates Foundation Funds ABC News

October 6, 2010; Source: New York Times | The New York Times reports that the Gates Foundation has awarded a $1.5 million grant to ABC News to travel the world, reporting on various health crises and to suggest solutions. Apparently ABC News is putting up another $4.5 million for the project. This is the first time the network has ever accepted a cash grant from a foundation.

The grant comes with a number of “must-do’s”: two hour-long specials to be run this December and next, and some agreement, it seems, about further topics to be covered. There are so many implications to be explored here but one is clearly media independence and disclosure of sponsorship. Who will drive the content? According to this article, ABC News will disclose Gate’s sponsorship anytime a report to which it has contributed is aired but Gates clearly will be driving editorial content to some degree in framing the issues to be covered. David Westin, President of ABC News says that “He and other ABC News executives met with Dr. Tachi Yamada, the president of the global health program at the Gates Foundation, ‘to pick his brain’ . . . about the possible areas that could be included in the coverage.”

NPQ has long  followed the story of the growing “sector agnosticism” of large foundations as they move to pay into public systems and private corporations.  We have previously written in the Newswire about concerns that have been raised regarding the size of the Gates Foundation’s financial influence  over the World Health Organization. Some estimate Gates’ financial contribution to be greater than that of the U.S. government’s. Now it will also have at least some measure of influence over media coverage of global health issues. What do you think about this grant?—Ruth McCambridge


  • C.T. Lytle

    The mainstream media, being profit oriented, has a structural bias – to cover those issues that attract the most viewers/readers/listeners. Additionally, they are under constant solicitation by public relations professionals representing an unrelenting stream of corporate interests intent on gaining their “third party credibility” by covering issues and stories that create a market for their product or service. I can see no reason why nonprofit foundations should not play on an equally level field in trying to induce the media to cover issues they deem important. Foundations will often fund nonprofit advocacy programs – in this case they are simply doing it directly rather than funding surrogates to advance important social issues. We live in a media generated world to a greater extent than we like to imagine, and recognizing and participating in the creation of that reality is fair game. As Edward Bernays, the father of PR said, “The engineering of consent is the very essence of the democratic process, the freedom to persuade and suggest.” Gates Foundation is breaking new ground and giving global health issues, and those that suffer from them, a voice and fighting chance for attention…in competition with erectile disfunction and acid indigestion. Democracy is a messy game, and I’m delighted to see Gates and philanthropy jump in to the mess!