Will the Gates Foundation's Journalism Gifts Taint Objectivity?

He's no Rupert Murdoch, but Bill Gates is making another media investment: His foundation will help fund a project at ABC News to increase its coverage of health conditions of the poor. It further expands the billionaire's investments in the news media, which could help influence the stories they cover. While the latest effort is a good cause, he is effectively paying ABC, as he has others media outlets, to report on his foundation's efforts—presumably favorably. In 2008, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation issued a $3.5 million grant to establish a TV production unit to report on global health issues for PBS' NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. (Columbia Journalism Review last week expanded on the inner workings of that partnership and how media are already pulling their punches). Earlier, the foundation gave $16 million to other media operations and journalism schools, mostly to finance better global health reporting. On the business end, the foundation loaned MediaNews Group $350 million in 2006 to buy four newspapers, including the San Jose Mercury News and the Contra Costa Times, from McClatchy. Additionally, last month the foundation announced a partnership with The Guardian of London, helping fund a website on global development. The effort seems comparatively more political, serving as "a global hub for information, debate and action around global development," as foundation spokesperson Kate James put it. In the latest venture, the foundation is giving a $1.5 million grant to ABC that will help fund overseas travel and foreign production costs, says ABC. The network says it will have "complete editorial control" over the content of the series. "We can cover the stories that ABC News is passionate about, stories that will connect our American audience with the struggles and solutions of families and doctors all over the planet," says ABC News President David Westin. And if a story comes along that reflects poorly on the Gates Foundation, they'll passionately report that too, right?

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