It’s a frightening prospect to think any person or entity with significant funds could buy editorial time or space to promote a specific ideology, but that’s what’s going on between the Guardian and the Open Philanthropy Project (OPP).
In 2017, the daily U.K.-based newspaper sought and received a grant from OPP to regularly print editorial content in support of OPP’s well-established animal rights agenda. OPP is paying the Guardian $886,600 (USD) to publish a series titled “Animals farmed.” It consists of a steady stream of articles that paint animal agriculture as inhumane, unhealthy and dangerous to the environment.
Before going any further, let me be clear about something. In this day and age, newspapers are under increasing pressure to find sources of revenue to replace subscriptions and lost advertising dollars, for example. The Guardian has been transparent in its solicitation and receipt of funds from OPP and even includes a statement of funding and the OPP logo on all stories that are written under the terms of the grant. I don’t admire the Guardian’s selling of its editorial space, but at least it’s not keeping it a secret. Although honesty is the best policy, the Guardian’s actions still fall short of my view of what journalism should be about. I’m sure others would agree.
According to the National Union of Journalists’ code of conduct, which “has set out the main principles of UK and Irish journalism since 1936,” a journalist “at all times upholds and defends the principle of media freedom, the right of freedom of expression and the right of the public to be informed.” In the book “The Elements of Journalism,” Bill Kovach and Tom Rosential lay out 10 principles of good journalism. Journalism’s first obligation is to the truth and its first loyalty is to citizens, they say. Journalists must remain independent of those they cover and “must serve as an independent monitor of power.” Meanwhile, “members of the Society of Professional Journalists ascribe to the ideal that public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy. Ethical journalism strives to ensure the free exchange of information that is accurate, fair and thorough.” Without these principles that guide so many journalists throughout the world, what we have is propaganda. Plain and simple.
The Guardian espouses “open, independent journalism,” or so it says on its website. “Our mission is to keep independent journalism accessible to everyone, regardless of where they live or what they can afford. Funding from our readers safeguards our editorial independence. It also powers our work and maintains this openness. It means more people, across the world, can access accurate information with integrity at its heart.”
What I have a problem with is this: OPP is no ordinary reader. It’s funded by Dustin Moskowitz, one of the founders of Facebook. It has an unapologetic focus on farm-animal welfare – which it has every right to have, by the way – that is led by Lewis Bollard, a former leader at the Humane Society of the United States. It recently handed over $4 million in support of Prop 12 in California. Oh, and it is an investor in Impossible Foods, the maker of the Impossible Burger. The point is, its resources are significant, and it stands to gain financially and otherwise from the furthering of its anti-livestock agenda.
I wonder how many of the Guardian’s readers throughout the world truly understand “Animals farmed” is advertorial copy designed to win them over to OPP’s view of animal agriculture.
I’ll debate the OPP and its beliefs until the cows come home. I’ll answer the call of any journalist who follows a published code of ethics. (And most of them do, thankfully.) I’m not afraid of anyone who disagrees with me. The important thing is to keep talking and listening to each other to broaden our minds and come up with answers to problems and issues that affect every person on this planet, most of all those who can’t afford to pay to play as the OPP can.
My beef has long been with people and entities that use their power and resources to unduly influence others.
Is it possible, thanks to the Guardian’s up-for-sale editorial policy, that we have something more nefarious to fear?