A new $20 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation illustrates the way lines have blurred between traditional media and new ways of communicating about health and development.

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Is it media? Is it public education?

A new grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation illustrates the way lines have blurred between traditional media and new ways to communicate about health and development.

At $20 million, the five-year grant to the BBC World Service Trust is the foundation’s largest so far with a media connection. But foundation officials say it is not like previous grants to news organizations, including ABC and PBS.

“This grant does not support the news gathering capacity of the BBC,” foundation spokesman Chris Williams wrote in an e-mail. “This grant is essentially public education.”

The BBC World Service Trust is the British Broadcasting Corp.’s international charity. Its website says: “We use media and communications to reduce poverty and promote human rights.”

Among the trust’s projects are humorous public-service announcements in India urging condom use and a hospital drama in Cambodia that explores health issues.

But the organization also ventures into journalism, providing training and technical support for news and media organizations in the developing world. Its website says, “We often work in partnership with the BBC World Service, and have access to its weekly audience of 180 million listeners.” The BBC World Service is the BBC’s international radio station.

The new grant is focused on the Indian state of Bihar, one of the country’s poorest. The goal is to “shape demand and social norms and improve family health practices … through an integrated and sustainable multichannel communications strategy.” Those strategies will include public-service announcements, Williams wrote.

“It’s focused on extremely poor and underserved areas of India, where access to information about public-health initiatives is scarce and where the population is hard to reach.”

The Gates Foundation has become a major force in both traditional and nontraditional media. A recent Seattle Times analysis found the foundation has spent nearly $70 million on direct grants to media organizations, media training and media research, with the goal of boosting and shaping coverage of global health and development.

The new grant is more focused on educating the public directly, though boosting local media coverage may be one way to accomplish that, Williams said.

Sandi Doughton: 206-464-2491 or sdoughton@seattletimes.com