24 April 2023

UPDATE: Twitter removes ‘government-funded media’ tag

| Andrew McLaughlin
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ABC Twitter header

The ABC News Twitter page has been labelled as ‘government-funded media’. Photo: Screenshot.

UPDATE: Twitter has quietly removed the “Government-funded” label from the ABC, SBS, Canada’s CBC, and the US’s NPR and PBS.

Each of these organisations reportedly complained to Twitter that the tag was misleading, causing some readers to associate them with government propaganda.

While no announcements have been forthcoming from Twitter nor from the ABC, it appears the labels have now been quietly removed, possibly as part of a move to also remove Twitter’s free verified organisation ‘blue ticks’.

MONDAY, 24 APRIL: Twitter has implemented a new series of labels for some major publicly funded news organisations.

While we have been familiar with those state-run media organisations such as China’s Xinhua or Russia’s TASS – both of which are rightly labelled as ‘state-affiliated media’, Twitter has expanded its labelling of news organisations in recent days.

The ABC News and SBS Twitter feeds have now been branded as ‘government-funded media’, as has Canada’s CBC and the US’s PBS. Interestingly, the BBC’s label now says ‘publicly-funded media’ after an intervention by Twitter owner Elon Musk.

While the BBC was also initially given the ‘government-funded media’ label by Twitter, this was changed on 12 April to ‘publicly-funded media’. In an interview with the BBC the day before, Musk said, “Our goal was simply to be as truthful and accurate as possible. 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 US’s National Public Radio (NPR), which labels itself as an “independent news organisation” was also given the ‘government-funded media’ label, and it subsequently announced on 12 April that it would “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”.

That same day, NPR posted all of its other social media and online links and pinned them to the top of its Twitter page, and tweeted directly to Musk that it was quitting all of its 50+ Twitter accounts. In the tweet it asked Musk, “What’s your reaction?”, to which Musk responded, “Defund @NPR”.

While NPR’s account remains active, it has not posted since.

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On 13 April, PBS also suspended its Twitter account, saying, it had “no plans to resume at this time”, but that it would continue “to monitor the ever-changing situation closely”.

“Twitter’s simplistic label leaves the inaccurate impression that PBS is wholly funded by the federal government,” the company said, adding that, like NPR, most of its funding comes from public and philanthropic donations, with only a small percentage from government subsidies.

It is unclear how hard the ABC will push to get its label changed like the BBC was successful in doing. “We’re liaising with Twitter regarding changes to account verification and labels,” an ABC spokesperson said in a 16 April statement. “The ABC doesn’t currently have any plans to shut down all its Twitter accounts.”

A spokesperson for SBS said it was concerned the label may give its multilingual and multicultural audience the impression that it is state or government-affiliated.

“While we appreciate Twitter’s motivations with regard to transparency on its platform, we believe a ‘publicly-funded media’ label better reflects the hybrid public-commercial nature of our funding model and the fact that SBS retains full independence from Government in our news editorial and content decision making.”

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Twitter defines ‘state-affiliated media’ as outlets “where the state exercises control over editorial content through financial resources, direct or indirect political pressures, and/or control over production and distribution”.

Twitter defines ‘government-funded media’ as “outlets where the government provides some or all of the outlet’s funding and may have varying degrees of government involvement over editorial content,” whereas publicly funded media is defined as, “organizations that receive funding from license fees, individual contributions, public financing, and commercial financing”.

Dr Denis Muller, a senior research fellow at the Centre for Advancing Journalism at the University of Melbourne, told SBS’ The Feed that it was a “very damaging label” to give Australia’s public broadcasters.

“For Twitter to represent [SBS and the ABC] or other broadcasters that obtain their funding from government as government broadcasters is simply dishonest and misleading, and clearly designed to send a kind of coded message to the world that the public broadcaster is no more than government mouthpieces,” he said.

One Nation Senator Malcolm Roberts polled his Twitter followers on 17 April, asking whether ABC journalists should “also receive the Government funded media tag for transparency”, with a somewhat predictable 93 per cent saying yes, and just seven per cent saying no.

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