National Public Radio quits Twitter over ‘government-funded’ label

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US non-profit media organisation National Public Radio is quitting Twitter after the social media platform stamped its account with labels the news organisation says are intended to undermine its credibility.

Twitter labelled NPR’s main account last week as “state-affiliated media”, a term also used to identify media outlets controlled or heavily influenced by authoritarian governments such as Russia and China.

Twitter later changed the label to “government-funded media”, but to NPR it is still misleading.

NPR said in a statement on Wednesday that it “will no longer be active on Twitter because the platform is taking actions that undermine our credibility by falsely implying that we are not editorially independent”.

“Defund @NPR,” was Twitter owner Elon Musk’s response. His latest dispute with a news organisation reflects a gamble for the social media platform he bought last year.

Twitter has said its users come to it to keep track of current events, which made it an attractive place for news outlets to share their stories and reinforced Twitter’s moves to combat the spread of misinformation.

But Mr Musk has long expressed disdain for professional journalists and said he wants to elevate the views and expertise of the “average citizen”.

The Public Broadcasting Service said on Wednesday it has also stopped tweeting from its main account and that the public TV organisation has no plans to resume because “Twitter’s simplistic label leaves the inaccurate impression that PBS is wholly funded by the federal government”.

Media analysts say growing friction between Twitter and news organisations since Mr Musk bought the platform is bad for Twitter and for the public.

“It’s a shame to have proceeded in a direction where, intentionally or otherwise, Twitter is categorising Russian propaganda outlets in a similar way to very legitimate news sources that get a very modest amount of funding from the US government,” said Paul Barrett, deputy director of the NYU Stern Centre for Business and Human Rights.

Elon Musk
Elon Musk (Benjamin Fanjoy/AP)

Twitter earlier in April removed the verification check mark on the main account of the New York Times, singling out the newspaper and disparaging its reporting after it said it would not pay for verification of its institutional accounts.

Twitter used to tag journalists and other high-profile accounts with blue check marks to verify their identity and distinguish them from imposters, but Mr Musk has derided the marks as an undeserved status symbol and plans to take them away from anyone not buying a premium subscription.

Those cost as little as 8 dollars a month for individuals and a minimum of 1,000 dollars a month for organisations.

Mr Barrett said Mr Musk appears to be intent on “insulting and antagonising individuals and organisations that he considers to be too liberal for his taste”, but by driving away legitimate news outlets, Twitter is only harming itself.

“The drift is in an unfortunate direction,” he said. “You want to encourage sources of reliable, well-reported news to be present and prolific on your platform.”

NPR’s main account had not tweeted since April 4. On Wednesday, it sent a series of tweets listing other places to find its journalism.

Spokeswoman Isabel Lara said its journalists, employees and member stations can decide for themselves if they want to keep using the platform. NPR journalists have not been given the “government-funded” label.

NPR does receive US government funding through grants from federal agencies and departments, along with the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

The company has said it accounts for less than 1% of NPR’s annual operating budget. Much of its funding comes from sponsorships and dues from its member stations around the US, which in turn get revenue from a range of funders including public institutions, corporate donors and listeners.

Twitter’s new labels have often appeared arbitrarily assigned. For example, it has not added the “government-funded” label for many other public broadcasting organisations, such as those in Canada and Australia.

It also has changed some labels without explanation, such as when it removed a “United Arab Emirates state-affiliated media” tag from the profile of Abu Dhabi’s The National newspaper earlier this year.

BBC Twitter account
The Twitter page for the main BBC account with a ‘government-funded media’ tag (Yui Mok/PA)

“Our goal was simply to be as truthful and accurate as possible,” Mr Musk said. “So I think we’re adjusting the label to be ‘publicly funded’, which I think is perhaps not too objectionable. We’re trying to be accurate.”

The BBC said on Wednesday it would welcome a move to change the label to “publicly funded” instead of government-funded. Hours later, it got its wish, but not NPR or PBS.

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