Last week, the Seattle Times released this piece on the Gates Foundation helping to fund various media outlets. While foundation funding of media is not unheard of, it is usually non-profit media sources, like NPR or PBS, that receive funding. In this piece, the Gates Foundation’s funding of for-profit outlets like ABC and the Guardian lead the authors to question how neutral stories from these networks can be in light of the Foundation’s potential influence on their reporting.
Already, the article points to ways in which Gates money has changed which diseases get airtime. Since malaria, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis are three illnesses pinpointed for eradication by the Gates Foundation, these are getting the most attention. The articles states, “…rather than providing general support, Gates usually stipulates reporting on the issues it cares about most: diseases such as HIV, malaria and TB; poverty in the developing world; and education in the United States.
What might this mean for reporting on agriculture in African countries, particularly in light of the debate around the relationship between Gates and Monsanto? The Foundation has already though of this, and has elected to fund a Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism program on reporting on agricultural issues in Africa. Popular food reform advocate, and professor at the School, Michael Pollan, is quoted in the press release linked to above as saying, “How will Africa feed itself? is one of the most important food stories of our time, and this grant will help make it possible for our students to cover it.”
Certainly, Berkeley students will be able to cover the “story” of agriculture in African countries, but from whose perspective? Will students truly be able to approach the issue from a neutral place, or will their work be tainted by the position of the program’s funder? In the controversial debate over the role that the Gates Foundation ought to take in its involvement with African agriculture, an unbiased eye will be key.