Foundations plan to pay news media to cover radical UN agenda


Oct. 16, 2012: U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (L), U.N. Foundation founder and chairman Ted Turner (C) and former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan pose as they celebrate the 15th anniversary of Turner’s historic $1 billion gift to the U.N. at the Global Leadership Awards dinner hosted by the U.N. Foundation and United Nations Association-USA in New York. (Reuters)

EXCLUSIVE: The United Nations Foundation created by billionaire Ted Turner, along with a branch of media giant Thomson Reuters, is starting to train a squadron of journalists and subsidize media content in 33 countries—including the U.S. and Britain–in a planned $6 million effort to popularize the bulky and sweeping U.N.-sponsored Sustainable Development Goals, prior to a global U.N. summit this September. where U.N. organizers hope they will be endorsed by world leaders.

The unprecedented media push is formally intended to start on May 25 but is already underway. It is intended to help breathe some new life into a sprawling U.N. effort–supported by, among others, the Obama administration–to create a global social and environmental agenda for the next 15 years.

It is taking place in parallel with an equally strong but unrelated media cheerleading push by supporters of strong climate change action to help set in stone a new global greenhouse gas emissions treaty at a Paris summit in December.

A junior partner in the U.N. Foundation media training and subsidy effort is a not-for-profit organization known as the Jynwel Charitable Foundation Limited, whose co-director is a flamboyant Malaysian financial named Jho Low. Jynwel, a Low family creation, also recently plunked down $25 million to take over a sputtering U.N. humanitarian news agency known as IRIN and sharpen its message.

The training and subsidy effort “comes at a time when people want to know what it will take to eradicate extreme poverty and tackle the big questions related to sustainability,” Kathy Calvin, CEO of the U.N. Foundation, told Fox News. “If our work helps encourage the media to dive deeper into these issues, we are achieving something that is core to our mission but also a public good worthy of 2015’s moment in history.”

“This is an important year or a robust decision on what the world and the U.N. will do in the next 15 years,” added Aaron Sherinian, the Foundation’s chief communications and marketing officer. “We thought we would do well to connect as many people to the conversation as possible.”

In fact, the media-training-and-subsidy blitz could also be described as extraordinary bid to pump up public interest and editorial support for a vast and wobbly U.N. campaign to create a new social and environmental agenda that is too nebulous to criticize and too ponderous to implement with any coherent effect. Nonetheless, that agenda is intended to drive national social, economic and environmental agendas for the next 15 years.

The new goals, known as the SDGs, have been under formal discussion in various U.N. fora for the past year. They consist of 17 major goals and 169 related targets and amount to a broad-based socialist and/or progressive agenda that by 2030 promises to end poverty and all forms of malnutrition everywhere, “attain healthy lives for all,” “reduce income equality within and between countries,” and “promote sustainable production and consumption,” among many other things.

The subtargets cover everything from “create and diversify seed and plant banks,” to “end preventable newborn, infant and under-five deaths,” to “achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all women and men, including young people and persons with disabilities,” along with much, much more.

The goals are the centerpiece of what the U.N. calls the “post-2015 development process” They are a grab-bag of environmental and social development measures that are too sprawling in scope and too open-ended to be effective, or apparently even to be widely understood.

So far as the new training and subsidy initiative is concerned, however, the problem is seen less in terms of problematic content and more in terms of popularizing the message by refocusing and re-educating the media—as well as helping to pay some of them for delivering the new intellectual freight.

“Very often the problem of the UN is that the speeches long, full of acronyms, and the jargon is difficult to understand,” Monique Villa, head of the Thomson Reuters Foundation, told Fox News. “Making the jargon of the U.N. understandable is quite important.”

Under the plan, Villa’s foundation, Thomson Reuters’ non-profit arm, will carry out the training under contract from U.N. Foundation. (The Thomson Reuters Foundation, according to its website, also carries on for-profit training sessions.)

Journalists from Australia to Peru, and from Britain to Zimbabwe will be given five-day training programs by instructors drawn largely from the ranks of former Reuters journalists. The material will include encompass among other things how to better understand and explain U.N. opaque concepts of sustainability, with at least one section devoted to “financial and economic concepts,” Villa said.

Training sessions for the journalists—whose parent organizations are as yet unnamed—are slated to run through August.

U.S. training sessions will take place in New York and Los Angeles, although who will be given instruction—and whose editorial platforms will be subsidized—has not yet announced. Overall subsidies are expected to range between $25,000 and $100,000, with 15 recipients named by the end of May and another 15 by the end of June.

“Depending on financing we might be able to add a few more outlets to the list” a U.N. Foundation spokesperson told Fox News.” She emphasized that the subsidies are “grants designed to enhance the capacity of media organizations to partner on these issues. Full editorial control of content remains with the media outlet.”

Individual media outlets would announce their participation “once partnership details are finalized,” she said.

The subsidy approach, U.N. Foundation’s Sherinian said, was “not dissimilar” to the funding that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has provided for sveral years to the left-wing British newspaper The Guardian, to publish what amounts to sponsored news about economic development issues, including the Foundation’s campaign to extirpate AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.

“We are asking the media to do what they do well,” Sherinian added. “If a media organization has the ability to do what it has done well, and if it could do more innovative work,” then “we are asking them to engage on the issue.”

The effort would also include “putting them in touch with people on the ground doing implementation work”–in other words, those who are actually going to put the goals into practice.

Not all of the funding for the effort has yet been raised, he added. “We are in both implementing and fundraising mode.”

At the same time as the U.N.-supporting foundations are boosting coverage of the “post-2015 development agenda,” an even bigger media coalition has just announced it will start lumping content for collective use in support of a new U.N.-sponsored treaty on greenhouse gases, which is supposed to be agreed upon at a summit meeting in December in Paris.

The so-called Climate Publishers Network, a 25-member group that includes The Guardian as well as such high-profile newspaper as Le Monde in France and El Pais in Spain, as well as the China Daily, have agreed to drop their mutual licensing fees to allow all network members to share their coverage on the climate change issue prior to the December 11 summit.

The network arrangement is slated to disband immediately afterward.

The U.N. Foundation’s Sherinian said that the two programs “were not formally affiliated in a specific way,” and said he could not confirm “if or how the outlets involved in the Climate Publishers Network coincide with those involved in our program to date.”

But like the Climate Publishers with their self-imposed shut-off date, he said the U.N. Foundation would not commit to maintaining the SDG subsidy effort beyond this year—it was, he said, “too early to say.”

The same could be said of the success of either full-court effort to help build a media groundswell for the expansive and expensive U.N.-supported objectives.

George Russell is Editor-at-Large of Fox News. He is reachable on Twitter at @GeorgeRussell and on Facebook at