The (not so) independent fact checkers

Our Board member Dr Benoît Ochs was recently the target of a fact-check by Agence France-Presse (AFP)[1], one of the major players in this field. It was about statements in a video distributed by alternative media, where he expressed his concern about the side effects of the Covid-19 vaccines.

This prompted us to take a look behind the scenes of this media group. Even a very superficial research revealed numerous cross-connections to and financial dependencies on governments, the European Commission programme and NGOs. The complexity and true scope of all these networks can therefore only be touched upon in this article.

AFP, Factstory and Factcheck

Agence-France-Presse, founded in 1835, is considered the oldest news agency in the world. According to its own information, it is active in 151 countries with 2400 employees[2]. Its multimedia content (video, text, photo, and infographics) is available in 6 languages.

From the legal side, it should be noted that AFP has a special status laid down in law [3], which is comparable to the public broadcasters in the FRG. For example, a Conseil supérieur is provided for, which monitors compliance with the statutes and is presided over by a member of the Conseil d’Etat. According to Wikipedia, AFP receives 40% of its income from the French state through “subscriptions to state institutions” and is thus in a “considerable dependency” [4].

A subsidiary of AFP is Factstory, a PR agency for audiovisual and editorial content. What one reads on its web presence about its “ethical principles” regarding medicine and health sounds a bit strange[5]: so one finds under the item “Medicine and Health”:

FACTSTORY may work for pharmaceutical and medical research companies, but shall not be involved in producing content that promotes false or unverified claims about health issues. FACTSTORY should not work for organizations or individuals that promote alternatives to vaccines or that contradict medical science.

Factstory thus claims to be in possession of unquestionable medical expertise when it limits the potential clientele a priori in this way.

Finally, AFP Factuel, or AFP Factcheck, is an internal AFP service designed to combat the misinformation and disinformation that is increasingly spreading online[6] :

The Agency has launched a dedicated fact-checking website and service, responding to the proliferation of fake news and misinformation online […].

With this activity, one can almost speak of a service on an industrial scale. For online media, for example, subscriptions are available that include dozens of immediately publishable contents per month[7]. Obviously, RTL.LU also uses one of these offers[8].

In addition, RTL and AFP are members of the recently founded European Digital Media Observatory (EDMO), which is funded by the European Commission[9].

According to its website, AFP Factcheck is also primarily responsible for combating misinformation on Facebook[7]:

AFP is our primary global fact-checking partner, working with them on virtually every continent to combat the spread of misinformation. Its unparalleled global network is an invaluable asset to our fact-checking programme, and we are delighted to be developing this expertise in the US.

Keren Goldshlager, Integrity Partnerships Facebook

Finally, AFP is certified by the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN), which in turn is part of the Poynter Institute[10].

What are the interrelationships now?

The network document

On 22 September 2021, the German website Club der klaren Worte published an interview with a computer scientist who was able to uncover and analyse worldwide relationships between politics, NGOs and companies using special software[11]. The result is a 170-page dossier, which is available for download as a so-called network document.

On page 133, a diagram is dedicated to the network of relationships around AFP. We have already discussed the relationship between AFP, Factstory, Factcheck and Facebook. We also see here that the European Commission (EC) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), among others, are clients of Factstory. The former is listed in Factory’s portfolio[12], for the BMGF we find a corresponding author reference of a photo on their website[13].

In the diagram there is also a reference to a grant of 45 million dollars to the European Commission from the BMGF, which is confirmed in the corresponding database[14].

The Poynter Institute’s funding sources are also revealing (page 134 of the network document). Besides Facebook, there is, among others, Georg Soros’ Open Society Foundations as well as Luminate, an offshoot of the Omydiar Group launched by the founder of Ebay. The German fact-checker Correctiv, for example, was also supported by Luminate in 2018 and 2020 with US$749,500 and US$1,000,000 respectively [15].

An overview of the situation

The following diagram represents a modest attempt to visualize the somewhat complex situation in an understandable way. The diagram was divided into 5 sections, which contain the following elements from top to bottom:

  1. Governments, European Commission and NGOs
  2. Associations/platforms which, in the broadest sense, are to combat disinformation and propaganda on the net
  3. Press agencies
  4. Media, fact checker
  5. Social Media

Apart from the relationships between the individual actors already discussed, some additional elements have been integrated:

  • CLT-UFA currently receives €10,000,000 per year from the Luxembourg state, a sum that will be increased from 2024.[16]
  • The members can be viewed on the EDMO website[17]. Apart from RTL and AFP, we find dpa and Correctiv here.
  • For the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN), initiated by the Poynter Institute and co-financed by the Open Society Foundations, there is also a list of about 140 (!) signatories[18]: in addition to AFP, these include dpa, Reuters and the Associated Press (AP).
  • BMGF grants to Spiegel Online in December 2018 and October 2021 (US$2,537,294 and US$2,900,000 respectively)[19].
  • Twitter trusts fact-checking to the services of Reuters and AP[20], Whatsapp falls back on Full Fact[21].

The arrows represent either money flows through business relationships/donations or dependencies through, for example, certifications via membership in organisations. A clear hierarchy from top to bottom is thus recognisable.

The censorship in social media is directly derived from the fact-checkers operating on the respective platform.

Let’s take a look at the grants that were spent for the distribution of vaccines in economically weak regions for the actors in the top sector.

The Vaccine Alliance

other contributions for a “fairer” distribution of vaccines
European Commission[22]417,3476,4 
Open Society Foundations[23]  230,0
alle Beträge in Millionen US$


Moreover, the European Commission can hardly deny hidden entanglements with the pharmaceutical industry. As is well known, the undisclosed correspondence via text messages between its President Ursula von der Leyen and Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla caused outrage: the content of this exchange was said to have been the Corona vaccine contract.[24]

The fact that her husband Heiko von der Leyen has also been medical director of Orgenesis, a pharmaceutical company specializing in personalized gene therapy, since September 2020 fits seamlessly into the picture.[25]

Every so often a picture is worth a thousand words: von der Leyen and Bourla at the “2021 Distinguished Leadership Awards” ceremony on 10 November 2021[26].

Let’s hold on to that:

AFP, a press service

  • whose subsidiary Factstory has the European Commission and the BMGF as clients, and furthermore does not accept clients who promote alternatives to Corona vaccination,
  • the member of the European Digital Media Observatory, which in turn is funded by the European Commission,
  • which is certified by the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN), which receives donations from the Open Society Foundations and Luminate,

does an “independent” fact check on the statements of a GP who expresses concerns about the side effects of the Corona vaccination?

This brings to mind the common question regarding the question whether Santa Claus is real.


[1] AFP Factuel (08.10.2021): Attention aux affirmations trompeuses de ce médecin luxembourgeois sur les vaccins anti-Covid et les thromboses

[2] AFP Webseite

[3] Loi n° 57-32 du 10 janvier 1957 portant statut de l’agence France-Presse.

[4] Wikipedia: Agence France-Presse (AFP)


[6] AFP Factuel: A propos

[7] AFP Faltencheck: Abonnements

[8] RTL.LU Faktencheck

[9] RTL Luxembourg, co-founder of European Digital Media Observatory (EDMO) BELUX

[10] IFCN: About

[11] Club der klaren Worte (22.09.2021): Exklusiv. Das Netzwerk-Dokument

[12] Factstory: Productions

[13] Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation: Perspectives on the global response to the 2019 novel coronavirus

[14] Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation: Committed Grants – European Comission – March 2019

[15] Luminate: Portfolio – Correctiv

[16] Luxemburger Wort (12.05.2021): L’Etat mettra davantage la main à la poche pour RTL

[17] EDMO: Members of Fact-checking community

[18] IFCN: Verified signatories of the IFCN code of principles

[19] Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation: Committed Grants – Spiegel

[20] Poynter (05.08.2021): Twitter finally turns to the experts on fact-checking

[21] Full Fact (29.09.2020): Full Fact launches a WhatsApp fact checking service in the UK

[22] Gavi: Investing in Gavi / Funding / Donor profiles

[23] OSF (20.09.2021): The Open Society Foundations Pledge Fresh Investment of $30.5 Million to Further Vaccine Equity

[24] The Ney York Times (28.04.2021): How Europe Sealed a Pfizer Vaccine Deal With Texts and Calls

[25] Deutsche Wirtschaftsnachrichten (15.09.2021): Ursula von der Leyens Ehemann ist seit dem Corona-Jahr Direktor eines Biopharma-Unternehmens

[26] Atlantic Council: 2021 Distinguished Leadership Awards