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Debunked: No, an FOI request did not show that RTÉ 'took orders' from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

A post on Facebook suggests that the broadcaster received money from a number of international groups.

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A POST ON social media has suggested that RTÉ received money from several groups whom conspiracy theorists often cite as being responsible for the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Facebook post, which has been shared more than 150 times, contains an image of a Freedom of Information response issued by the broadcaster and says “this is who RTÉ is taking orders from”.

The request sought the amounts paid to RTÉ by pharmaceutical companies, Google and its parent company Alphabet, Facebook, the Open Society Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Ford Foundation, Atlantic Philanthropies and “other philanthropic or grant-making groups” from 2018 to 2020.

However, the full response to the FOI request, seen by TheJournal.ie, shows that only Google (for the purposes of an innovation fund) and pharmaceutical companies (for ads on television and radio) paid money to the broadcaster in these years.

RTÉ also included details of three Irish bodies from which it received money in the three year period, though none of these were among those listed by the original requester.

The suggestion that RTÉ is “taking orders” from any of these companies based on this FOI response is misleading.

The Facebook post contains only a section of RTÉ’s full response. It omits crucial information about which of the named companies and groups the broadcaster actually received money from.

The FOI response was first reported in a video posted online by a prominent Irish conspiracy theorist on 27 January.

The image used on Facebook appears to be taken from that video.

145184452_4053881344646603_1099860651218526258_n The image shared on Facebook Source: Facebook

In order to see the full response, TheJournal.ie requested a re-release of the records from RTÉ, which is allowed under the Freedom of Information Act.

We previously explained how the Freedom of Information Act works in another FactCheck here.

The full response shows that the majority of named groups and companies did not give any money to RTÉ.

Here’s how each part of the request was answered:

  • Pharmaceutical companies or representatives: RTÉ confirmed that it had received money from such companies “in the form of advertising revenue”. The exact amount was refused under Section 36(1) of the FOI Act (which exempts records deemed to be commercially sensitive). Likewise, the names of the companies were refused under Section 15(d) of the Act (which exempts records already available in the public domain) because advertisements by the companies concerned had been broadcast, which put their names in the public domain.
  • Google/Alphabet: RTÉ received €300,000 from Google for the Google Digital News Innovation Fund, which was used to “fund a capital database project”. Details of the fund are here, while details of RTÉ’s project are here.
  • Facebook: RTÉ did not receive any money or financial assistance from Facebook.
  • Open Society Foundations: RTÉ did not receive any money or financial assistance from Open Society Foundations.
  • The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation: RTÉ did not receive any money or financial assistance from The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
  • The Rockefeller Foundation: RTÉ did not receive any money or financial assistance from The Rockefeller Foundation.
  • The Ford Foundation: RTÉ did not receive any money or financial assistance from The Ford Foundation.
  • Atlantic Philanthropies: RTÉ did not receive any money or financial assistance from Atlantic Philanthropies.
  • Other philanthropic or grant-making foundations: RTÉ said the definition of such groups was open to interpretation, and that it was unsure what was being requested. However, the broadcaster said it received €1,170,000 from Science Foundation Ireland to make science-related programming, €1,787,749 from the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland for programme funding and to digitise its own archive, and €150,000 from the Creative Ireland Programme towards the making of television programming.

There is no evidence that RTÉ “took orders” from any of those it received money from.

It is therefore misleading to suggest that the broadcaster’s editorial decisions were influenced by those it received money from in the form of grants or for the purposes of advertising pharmaceutical products.

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There is a lot of false news and scaremongering being spread in Ireland at the moment about coronavirus. Here are some practical ways for you to assess whether the messages that you’re seeing – especially on WhatsApp – are true or not. 

STOP, THINK AND CHECK 

Look at where it’s coming from. Is it someone you know? Do they have a source for the information (e.g. the HSE website) or are they just saying that the information comes from someone they know? A lot of the false news being spread right now is from people claiming that messages from ‘a friend’ of theirs. Have a look yourself – do a quick Google search and see if the information is being reported elsewhere. 

Secondly, get the whole story, not just a headline. A lot of these messages have got vague information (“all the doctors at this hospital are panicking”) and don’t mention specific details. This is often – but not always a sign – that it may not be accurate. 

Finally, see how you feel after reading it. A lot of these false messages are designed to make people feel panicked. They’re deliberately manipulating your feelings to make you more likely to share it. If you feel panicked after reading something, check it out and see if it really is true.

TheJournal.ie’s FactCheck is a signatory to the International Fact-Checking Network’s Code of Principles. You can read it here. For information on how FactCheck works, what the verdicts mean, and how you can take part, check out our Reader’s Guide here. You can read about the team of editors and reporters who work on the factchecks here

Have you gotten a message on WhatsApp or Facebook or Twitter about coronavirus that you’re not sure about and want us to check it out? Message or mail us and we’ll look into debunking it. WhatsApp: 085 221 4696 or Email: answers@thejournal.ie.

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