The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation provides over $250 million dollars in funding to news organizations, charitable organizations affiliated with news outlets, journalistic organizations, and fact-checking groups that regularly give investor and philanthropist Bill Gates and the Gates Foundation favorable coverage, according to an in-depth report from Columbia Journalism Review (CJR).
The Gates Foundation provides this funding through charitable grants and has given over $2 million to groups such as fact-checker Africa Check ($1.48 million), media company Gannett ($499,651), and the journalism school the Poynter Institute ($382,997). These groups have defended or favorably covered Gates and the Gates Foundation in their fact-checks.
CJR notes that it found “sixteen examples of Africa Check examining media claims related to Gates” and that its “body of work overwhelmingly seems to support or defend Bill and Melinda Gates and their foundation, which has spent billions of dollars on development efforts in Africa.”
Gannet-owned USA Today also regularly publishes fact-checks that defend Gates and his foundation from numerous claims including allegations that they will profit from COVID-19 vaccines or treatments and allegations that Gates and the World Economic Forum predicted the coronavirus pandemic.
And the Poynter Institute-owned fact-checker Politifact also often defends Gates and the Gates Foundation from allegations such as claims that the Gates Foundation will profit from a vaccine and claims about Gates’ vaccine comments.
Poynter senior vice president Kelly McBride told CJR that the money from the Gates Foundation was passed on to media fact-checking sites, including Africa Check, and noted that she is “absolutely confident” that no bias or blind spots emerged from the work. However, McBride acknowledged that she has not reviewed the work herself.
The executive director of Africa Check, Noko Makgato, told CJR: “Our funders or supporters have no influence over the claims we fact-check…and the conclusions we reach in our reports. With all fact-checks involving our funders, we include a disclosure note to inform the reader.”
In addition to giving funding to these organizations that have provided fact-checks, the Gates Foundation has also given charitable grants to the BBC, The Guardian, NBCUniversal Media, the Financial Times, ProPublica, The Atlantic, Medium, Al Jazeera, National Journal, Univision, the Texas Tribune, Washington Monthly, Le Monde, and the Center for Investigative Reporting, according to CJR’s report.
“When Gates gives money to newsrooms, it restricts how the money is used—often for topics, like global health and education, on which the foundation works—which can help elevate its agenda in the news media,” CJR added.
For example, the Africa Check grant’s purpose was “to increase accuracy of health claims by public figures and promote use of evidence backed information by policy makers, the media and the public, when addressing public health and development issues” while the Poynter Institute grant’s purpose was to “improve the accuracy in worldwide media of claims related to global health and development.”
CJR also notes that “during the pandemic, news outlets have widely looked to Bill Gates as a public health expert on covid—even though Gates has no medical training and is not a public official” and describes this as the news media giving Gates “an outsize voice in the pandemic.”
Additionally, CJR suggests that when the Gates Foundation launched 20 years ago, journalists were much more critical of Gates’ philanthropy efforts and that “Gates’s generosity appears to have helped foster an increasingly friendly media environment for the world’s most visible charity.”
While much of the report focuses on the favorable coverage Gates receives on health and education topics, Gates has also used one of his recent appearances on NBCUniversal-owned CNBC to take aim at private messages and end-to-end encryption.
During this appearance, Gates lamented not being able to see the messages in end-to-end encrypted messaging app WhatsApp and claimed that the company has “made sure they can’t intervene” when users share content such as anti-vaccine content.
A spokesperson for the Gates Foundation told CJR that a “guiding principle” of its journalism funding is “ensuring creative and editorial independence” and noted that many of the issues the Gates Foundation works on “do not get the in-depth, consistent media coverage they once did” because of financial pressures in journalism.
The spokesperson added: “When well-respected media outlets have an opportunity to produce coverage of under-researched and under-reported issues, they have the power to educate the public and encourage the adoption and implementation of evidence-based policies in both the public and private sectors.”
In a follow-up statement, the Gates Foundation said: “Recipients of foundation journalism grants have been and continue to be some of the most respected journalism outlets in the world.… The line of questioning for this story implies that these organizations have compromised their integrity and independence by reporting on global health, development, and education with foundation funding. We strongly dispute this notion.”
The implications of these Gates Foundation charitable grants going to fact-checking groups and news organizations extends far beyond giving positive media coverage to Gates and the issues the Gates Foundation works on.
Facebook works with fact-checking partners that are certified by Poynter’s International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN) and Africa Check and Politifact are both Facebook fact-checking partners.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has confirmed that when a warning label gets applied to Facebook posts after they’re fact-checked, this drastically cuts their viewership and results in users not clicking through to the content 95% of the time.
With Facebook being the world’s largest social network and having over 2.7 billion users, the decisions of these Gates-funded fact-checkers can determine how well content about the coronavirus or vaccine heath concerns performs with a “false” rating cutting its click through rate by around 20x.
This censorship via fact-checking concern is the subject of a recent lawsuit from the Children’s Health Defense group against Facebook and several of its fact-checking partners including the Poynter Institute and Politifact. The lawsuit claims that factually accurate public health posts were purposefully censored by Facebook.