ABC News announced today that it will receive $1.5M from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for a series highlighting diseases and health conditions among the world’s poorest people. That money is to help pay for foreign travel and production costs.
ABC claims that it will maintain editorial control over the projects, fending off any criticism of airing an infomercial for the Foundation. This blogger is certain that ABC's intent is beyond reproach. The whiff of conflict, however, lingers.
ABC is kicking in $4.5M for the show. The Gates Foundation, the charity of Microsoft co-founder and his wife, has done magnificent philanthropic work both here and areas overseas that are in desperate need. The ABC-connection provides the Foundation a strong media platform to educate Americans about the global fight against malaria, polio, tuberculosis and HIV.
ABC News President David Westin says the Gates money "will help us, literally, go that extra mile; we can cover the stories that ABC News is passionate about." If ABC News is so passionate about those stories, why doesn’t it just pick up the whole tab for the "Be the Change: Save a Life" program?
ABC is not exactly a nickel-and-dime operation. The television network is part of Walt Disney Co., the entertainment powerhouse that earned $3.3B in 2009 on $36B in revenues. Disney’s corporate performance is not too shabby this year. Net income for the first nine-months is up 30 percent to $3.1B on an eight percent revenue rise to $28B. Walt Disney surely could cover the $1.5M that the Gates Foundation has earmarked for ABC. That’s barely a drop in the corporate coffers.
There’s a problem with ABC News World News anchor Diane Sawyer hosting the Be the Change series, set to debut in December and run through '11. How will Sawyer cover the next big news from Microsoft? Its CEO Steve Ballmer promises the introduction of a tablet computer by Christmas to go head-to-head with the iPad.
Should Apple CEO Steve Jobs offer ABC $1.5M to offset some more travel expenses for ABC and even the score?
Westin should reconsider the decision to take money from the Foundation. Another option: donate the cash to a different NGO that is working on improving healthcare in Africa.