The media is using a variety of tactics to restrict your access to the truth from websites like mine, including NewsGuard, a self-appointed internet watchdog that sells a browser plugin to rate websites on nine criteria of credibility and transparency. Before I delve further into NewsGuard and its underlying agenda, it’s important to look at who funds it.

NewsGuard received much of its startup funds from Publicis Groupe, a giant global communications group with divisions that brand imaging, design of digital business platforms, media relations and health care.

Publicis Groupe’s health subsidiary, Publicis Health, names Lilly, Abbot, Roche, Amgen, Genentech, Celgene, Gilead, Biogen, Astra Zeneca, Sanofi, Bayer and other Big Pharma giants as clients, which gives you an idea of where its loyalties lie.

GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) has also awarded Publicis Media a healthy piece of business, and the communications group responded by creating a custom “platformGSK” to run the drug giant’s media business.

GSK Adds $400 Million to $1.5 Billion Publicis Collaboration

In October 2018, following a five-month review, GSK sent its $1.5 billion media account to Publicis, which beat out other media agencies vying for the account, including Omnicom’s PHD and WPP’s Group M.1

According to FiercePharma, with the creation of the “platformGSK” model, the partnership gave “Publicis Media responsibility for all offline and digital paid media strategy and planning in the Americas, Europe, Middle East, Africa and Asia-Pacific. In the U.S., that includes DTC [direct to consumer] pharma work.”2 Further, the news outlet reported:

Publicis Groupe client lead Laurent Ezekiel said the agency is ‘excited to partner with them to establish a transformative client-agency relationship that will enable GSK to deliver on its ambition to become the best data-driven marketer in the industry.’3

In January 2020, GSK awarded Publicis Media with even more business, handing over the former Pfizer Consumer Healthcare brands to Publicis. The move was decided without a review and will add Advil, Centrum, Caltrate and other Pfizer brands to platformGSK, worth an estimated $400 million. GSK holds a 68% stake in the joint venture.

“GSK has already announced its plans to spin off the joint venture within three years and list it as standalone company on the U.K. exchange as GSK Consumer Healthcare, leaving the pharma giant to focus on medicines and vaccines,” FiercePharma reported.4

Meanwhile, Publicis also handles other Big Pharma media accounts, including Novartis. In August 2019, Publicis created NovartisONE2 to manage the pharma giant’s global media account worth $600 million.5

Publicis Funds NewsGuard

While Publicis has been busy solidifying its strong ties with Big Pharma, it was also the lead investor among a group of 18 that helped make NewsGuard a reality.

As of March 2018, Steven Brill and Gordon Crovitz, the “media entrepreneurs” behind NewsGuard, had raised $6 million to launch the company, which was slated to “address the fake news crisis by hiring dozens of trained journalists as analysts to review the 7,500 news and information websites most accessed and shared in the United States … These sites account for 98% of the news articles read and shared in the English language online in the United States.”6

Once installed on your browser, NewsGuard assigns a color coded “Nutrition Label” to sites, rating them green or red in a process they said would be “completely transparent and accountable.”7 While first launching in the U.S., NewsGuard expanded internationally, launching in the U.K. in 2019 and rating more than 200 websites.

The startup created controversy in January 2019 after giving Mail Online — the most read news website in the U.K. — a failing grade, stating it failed to uphold even basic standards of accuracy or accountability.

Following backlash and apparent “discussions” with a Daily Mail executive, NewsGuard changed the rating to green, stating the site “generally maintains basic standards of accuracy and accountability” and said they were wrong.8

It was an early indication of what can go wrong when you trust a conflicted startup company to dictate what’s truth and what’s not. In January 2020, NewsGuard announced it would adopt a subscription service in the U.K. and will start charging for the service.9

At the same time, NewsGuard issued a notice to subscribers in the U.S. with an offer to sign up early for $1.95 a month to “help keep NewsGuard free for the hundreds of libraries and schools that use NewsGuard.”10