OLD Media Moves

Google funding to news organizations may be influenced by pressure

October 10, 2019

Posted by Mariam Ahmed

Google and the foundations run by its leaders have given millions of dollars to journalists and news organizations around the world sponsoring different events including local news in the US. However, according to a news report written by researchers at the Campaign for Accountability’s Google Transparency Project, Google has given these grants in places where the company has faced pressure from politicians, the press and the public.

Now, the question is whether the tech giant is committed to social good or buying itself goodwill?

The report shows a spike in Google funding in Europe when Google was under pressure in the mid- to late-2010s, followed by an increase in US funding amid a backlash that has led to a Department of Justice investigation and calls for its breakup.

“Google often boasts about its support for journalism, disclosing plans to spend over half a billion dollars on media initiatives since 2013. But Google isn’t always transparent about its spending, making it difficult to assess what the company is giving — and what it may be getting in return,” the report said.

A spokesman for Google did not dispute the trend, but did deny any relationship between the increase in spending and any backlashes that the tech giant may be subject to.

“Who apart from our rival Oracle is funding these misleading attacks?” said the spokesperson. “Like much of the work this group has done in the past, this report is based on partial information and flawed methodology. Our criteria for awarding grants or funding is based on the merits of any project and the impact it will have on the news industry and ecosystem — not on politics. Over the years, we’ve funded hundreds of organizations and projects around the world that span important work like improving media literacy in the US, boosting digital innovation across the APAC region, and supporting fact-check initiatives and the future of news in online video.”

The Google Transparency Project found at least $567 million committed by Google and related entities such as its executives’ personal foundations to 1,157 media projects across the globe. Many of these were in France.

When European news outlets lashed out at Google in the early 2010s as it used snippets of their stories in Google News without pay, the company committed €60 million to help French publishers make the transition to online news. Then, as the European Union threatened to tax Google for displaying copyrighted material, the company announced it would invest €150 million in training, product development, and grants via a partnership with European publishers called the Digital News Initiative.

Since 2017, Google has also increased its grants in the United States, where it’s been facing a backlash along with its fellow tech giants.

“It’s not clear what they’re trying to do with this money apart from creating a feeling among journalists that Google is somehow good for journalism, and an impression that they’re actually trying to do good in the market,” Emily Bell, director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia Journalism School.

“You might look at Google and say, one of the things you could be doing is actually creating transparency and accountability around this, which is, where is the money going? How much are you giving people? Is it actually working? What can we learn from it?” she added.

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