Better-known for its battles against global disease, the Gates Foundation has also become a force in journalism. The foundation's contributions to nonprofit and for-profit media have helped spur coverage of global health, development and education issues. But some people worry that its growing support of media organizations blurs the line between journalism and advocacy.
Did you catch ABC's recent special on an incubator to boost preemie survival in Africa and a new machine to diagnose tuberculosis in the developing world?
Perhaps you saw Ray Suarez's three-part series on poverty and AIDS in Mozambique on the PBS NewsHour. Or listened to Public Radio International's piece on the rationing of kidney dialysis in South Africa.
Beyond their subject matter, these reports have something else in common: They were all bankrolled by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Better-known for its battles against global disease, the giant philanthropy has also become a force in journalism.
The foundation's grants to media organizations such as ABC and The Guardian, one of Britain's leading newspapers, raise obvious conflict-of-interest questions: How can reporting be unbiased when a major player holds the purse strings?
But direct funding of media organizations is only one way the world's most powerful foundation influences what the public reads, hears and watches.
To garner attention for the issues it cares about, the foundation has invested millions in training programs for journalists. It funds research on the most effective ways to craft media messages. Gates-backed think tanks turn out media fact sheets and newspaper opinion pieces. Magazines and scientific journals get Gates money to publish research and articles. Experts coached in Gates-funded programs write columns that appear in media outlets from The New York Times to The Huffington Post, while digital portals blur the line between journalism and spin.
The efforts are part of what the foundation calls "advocacy and policy." Over the past decade, Gates has devoted $1 billion to these programs, which now account for about a tenth of the giant philanthropy's $3 billion-a-year spending. The Gates Foundation spends more on policy and advocacy than most big foundations — including Rockefeller and MacArthur — spend in total.