Tag Archives: bill and melinda gates foundation

Gates’ funding of journalism raises ethical questions

In our coverage of the Kaiser Family Foundation’s report on the present and future of the global health beat, we noted the influx of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s largesse ($1 billion in the past decade) [correction] into that particular sphere of the health journalism world. The foundation has gone beyond supporting the training for journalists to now funding specific reporting enterprises – such as a recent ABC News special “on an incubator to boost preemie survival in Africa and a new machine to diagnose tuberculosis in the developing world.”

Now, Seattle Times reporters Sandi Doughton and Kristi Heim look at the logical question brought about by all that money: “Does Gates funding of media taint objectivity?

I don’t think there’s a journalist among us who will be able to resist reading the whole thing, if only to see just how much certain organizations have been given and which stories the foundation has been pushing. Nonetheless, I’ll run through a few of the highlights.

The Seattle Times reporters touch on some high-profile pieces funded through partnerships between the foundation and top media organizations, but write that the Gates effect runs much deeper than investigations that say “Funded in part by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation” at the end. After all, they write, “The Gates Foundation spends more on policy and advocacy than most big foundations — including Rockefeller and MacArthur — spend in total.” It accounts for a tenth of their annual $3 billion budget.

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.

As the reporters note, their sources point that that, “While the aims may be laudable, the ability of one wealthy foundation to shape public discourse is troubling to some.”

“Even if we were to satisfy ourselves that the Gates Foundation were utterly benign, it would still be worrisome that they wield such enormous propaganda power,” said Mark Crispin Miller, professor of media, culture and communications at New York University.

For their part, foundation folks say they’re trying to raise the profile of undercovered issues, not manipulate the world’s media.

“We’re trying to do everything we can to make sure people understand not just the need, but the opportunity, to make a huge difference in the lives of millions of people around the world,” said Joe Cerrell, who oversees the foundation’s policy, advocacy and communications work in Europe. “For us, it’s about making sure that these stories get told.”

For a more critical take, see Humanosphere blogger Tom Paulson’s review. In addition, David Jacobs, director of foundation information management at the Foundation Center, raises the question of whether it’s ethical for media outlets to accept donations from large foundations whose activities they may have to scrutinize one day.

Oh, and by the way, the reporters write, “The Seattle Times received a $15,000 Gates grant through Seattle University for a series of stories on homelessness in 2010.”


Christopher Williams, senior communications officer of The Gates Foundation, has written to Covering Health to clarify: “In fact, the foundation has spent approximately $50 million on media grants and partnerships over the past decade. We have spent approximately $1 billion on all advocacy efforts, for all of the issues that are important to the foundation. This includes research, policy work, and other advocacy of our issues that is not necessarily media focused.”

International cooperative to share health data

Writing that “the importance of data sharing in advancing health is becoming increasingly widely recognised,” 17 major public health players entities, from the CDC and AHRQ to the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation and the World Bank, have banded together to form a sort of data cooperative around the Wellcome Trust and the Hewlett foundation. In a Lancet commentary announcing the initiative, Wellcome director Mark Walport and Hewlett president Paul Brest write that, while fields such as genetics and molecular biology, a mature data-sharing system has sped up discoveries and increased efficiency, public health is lagging behind.

Much of the infrastructures, technical standards, and incentives that are needed to support data sharing are lacking, and these data can hold particular sensitivities. And some researchers are reluctant to share data. Too often, data are treated as the private property of investigators who aim to maximise their publication record at the expense of the widest possible use of the data. This situation threatens to limit both the progress of this research and its application for public health benefit.

Each organization will work within its own structure and their initial goals include the creation of data standards to facilitate sharing as well as increasing the prestige of creating public data sets. They acknowledge there will be some bumps along the way, but call on other organizations to join the initiative and to pursue the long-term goal of the widespread, fair and privacy-respecting sharing of public health data.

Gates Foundation pledges $10 billion for vaccines

Bloomberg’s Phil Serafino and Yuriy Humber reported on Bill and Melinda Gates’ pledge to commit $10 billion of their foundation’s resources over the coming decade to developing vaccines for the world’s poorest countries. It will come in addition to the $4.5 billion the foundation has already committed to vaccine research and delivery. Gates called on governments and other organizations to join the effort, using a Johns Hopkins model to predict significant impacts.

By vaccinating 90 percent of the population in developing countries, the deaths of about 7.6 million children under the age of 5 could be prevented in the next decade, according to the Gates foundation. An additional 1.1 million lives would be saved by the introduction of a malaria vaccine beginning in 2014, the foundation said.

That malaria vaccination, developed by GlaxoSmithKline, is expected to be ready for patent by 2012.


As part of a string of interviews that accompanied the release of Gates’ annual foundation letter, the heavyweight philanthropist told CNET’s Ina Fried that he has been surprised to find that vaccine distribution has turned out to be every bit as challenging as vaccine development. He also discussed his wide-ranging foundation-related travels and initiatives.

Lancet assesses Gates Foundation achievements

The journal Lancet tackled the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in a recent issue, assessing the heavyweight’s grants and spending. The study seeks to chronicle the foundation’s grants from 1998 to 2007 (a time period in which it handed out almost $9 billion), and the accompanying editorial provides a clear-eyed, critical review of the foundation’s work, transparency and priorities.

Some of the more striking numbers from a report full of them:

  • The $1.2 billion spent by the foundation in 2007 on global health alone rivaled the World Health Organization’s entire annual budget (some of which is, not coincidentally, itself provided by the Gates foundation).
  • Three quarters of global health funding went to “HIV/AIDS, malaria, vaccine-preventable diseases, child health,
    tuberculosis, and other tropical diseases and neglected
  • The 1094 grants issued from 1998 to 2007 ranged from $3,500 to $750 billion.
  • Twenty organizations shared 65 percent of the foundation’s global health funding.
  • As a whole, NGOs and nonprofits got $3.3 billion while Universities got $1.8 billion. The rest went to other organizations and governments.
  • Administrative expenses totaled $264 million in 2007.

The report also breaks down Gates funding by geography:

In terms of the geographical location of primary recipients, $3·62 billion (40%) of all funding was awarded to supranational organisations such as global health partnerships and intergovernmental organisations. Of the remaining amount, 82% ($4·39 billion) went to recipients based in the USA, 13% ($0·70 billion) to recipients in Europe and other high-income countries (eg, Australia), and 5% ($0·24 billion) to recipients in low-income and middle-income countries.

(Hat tip to Rahul Parikh, who provides a particularly useful breakdown of the numbers involved.)