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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.'Jeff Chiu/The Associated Press

Since Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter on Oct 27, 2022, the social-media platform’s journey has had many twists and turns, from layoffs and firings to changes in Twitter’s verification system.

Mr. Musk has since pledged to make several changes to the platform, including removing blue verified check marks for users who don’t pay for his subscription service, Twitter Blue. He also temporarily changed Twitter’s blue bird logo to a Shiba Inu dog, as a reference to the Dogecoin cryptocurrency he invested in.

Earlier this month, some media organizations, such as The New York Times, were stripped of their blue check mark, and last week, Twitter began applying labels to certain news organizations’ profiles, serving as titles that appear under usernames.

National Public Radio was given the label of “U.S state-funded affiliated media” last Tuesday, which the head of the media company called unacceptable. NPR was the first to quit Twitter as a response.

CBC/Radio-Canada followed that exit earlier this week after being assigned a “government-funded media” label. Soon after CBC announced the pause, Mr. Musk changed the label to “70% government-funded” and later amended this to 69 per cent.

On Friday, the labels were dropped from CBC, NPR and other media outlets in China, Iran and Russia, as global news organizations evaluate their presence on the social-media platform and its use as a communications tool amid its mercurial moves.

CBC’s editor-in-chief Brodie Fenlon wrote, “while CBC/Radio-Canada is publicly funded through a parliamentary appropriation voted upon by all members of Parliament, the government has no – zero – involvement in our editorial content or journalism.”

Other public broadcasting organizations – including PBS in the United States, the BBC in Britain and the ABC in Australia – have also been assigned labels and have asked for changes from Twitter.

Here’s what you need to know about Twitter’s most recent label controversy.

State-affiliated media, government-funded media, publicly funded media: What do the labels mean?

According to Twitter’s website, government-funded media is defined 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.” The website says Twitter may use external sources such as Wikipedia to determine when the label is applied.

State-affiliated media is defined 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.” The prominent staff of those outlets may also get assigned the label.

Publicly funded media refers to “media organizations that receive funding from license fees, individual contributions, public financing, and commercial financing.”

What is happening with CBC and Twitter?

After the initial label change to “government-funded,” CBC/Radio-Canada paused its Twitter activity from CBC News accounts.

“Not only is CBC/Radio-Canada’s editorial independence guaranteed under Canada’s Broadcasting Act, but our journalism is subject to rigorous standards,” wrote CBC editor-in-chief Brodie Fenlon.

CBC/Radio-Canada said it made the case to Twitter that the label should be dropped or changed, as recently occurred with the BBC. Until then, the pause will remain in effect.

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre sent a letter to Twitter last week requesting that the label be applied to accounts associated with CBC News, but did not mention Radio-Canada, the French-language wing of the broadcaster. Mr. Poilievre has suggested in media interviews that while he believes in defunding the CBC, he sees the value in its French-language programming.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters on Monday: “Attacking this Canadian institution, attacking the culture and local content that is so important to so many Canadians, really indicates the values and the approach that Mr. Poilievre is putting forward.

“In order to attack this institution that is important for many, many Canadians, he runs to American billionaires, the tech giants that they continue to defend.”

According to the office of Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez, when it comes to the broadcaster’s public funding, members of Parliament only have the authority to vote on the amount of money it receives, but they don’t have any control over its editorial decisions.

“It is an independent, arms-length Crown corporation,” said Laura Scaffidi, Mr. Rodriguez’s press secretary. She called Mr. Poilievre’s comments an “attack on journalists.”

Where does CBC’s funding come from?

In 2021-2022, about two-thirds (65.6 per cent) of CBC/Radio-Canada’s revenue was government funding, totalling $1.13-billion. The rest, $651.4-million, was self-generated revenue, a combination of the three other facets of the corporation’s funding – advertising revenue; subscriber fees; and financing and other income.

CBC/Radio-Canada has four sources of direct funding:

  • Government funding: From the operating funding for 2021-2022 of $1.13-billion, capital funding recognized in income was $96.3-million and working capital was $4-million.
  • Advertising revenue: This includes advertisements from television channels, digital platforms and discretionary television services.
  • Subscriber fees: This includes fees from CBC/Radio-Canada’s discretionary service such as CBC News Network, CBC Gem and the documentary channel.
  • Financing and other income: This comprises revenue that CBC/Radio-Canada generates continuously from various sources, including renting out their real estate assets, selling content, leasing space at transmission sites, and providing broadcasting services for sporting events.

How other public broadcasters have responded to Twitter labels:

National Public Radio

NPR announced Wednesday that it would quit using Twitter after its accounts were inaccurately labelled as “state-affiliated media.” The U.S. public-radio outlet said its credibility was being undermined by the platform, “falsely implying that we are not editorially independent.”

Twitter later changed the label to “government-funded media,” but NPR – which relies on the government for a tiny fraction of its funding – maintained its stance.

Twitter responded to an earlier request for comment about why the label was applied and whether it would be removed or changed with an auto-generated e-mail bearing a poop emoji, as it has to all press queries for several weeks.

British Broadcasting Corporation

After initially labelling the BBC as “state-affiliated” – a term usually reserved for government-run propaganda outlets in countries such as Russia and China – the platform shifted its language to “government-funded.”

With the British broadcaster continuing to find fault with that phrasing, Twitter made yet another change on Wednesday to call the BBC “publicly funded.”

Public Broadcasting Service

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

“PBS stopped tweeting from our account when we learned of the change and we have no plans to resume at this time,” it said in a statement Wednesday.

Australian Broadcasting Corporation

Australia’s national broadcaster is in talks with Twitter regarding its “government-funded media” label, which emerged on its ABC News Twitter account overnight.

The broadcaster dispelled any suggestion of political influence and instead maintained it is “publicly funded.”

“The ABC is a publicly funded broadcaster, governed by the ABC Charter, which is enshrined in legislation,” a statement read.

Radio New Zealand

The public broadcaster known as Radio NZ has threatened to quit Twitter after it was given a “government-funded media” tag.

The organization tweeted out its objection to the label, suggesting the tag would imply government interference in its editorial content.

Radiotelevision Espanola

Spain’s public broadcaster, known as RTVE, published a statement asking Twitter to remove its new “government-funded” label and replace it with a publicly funded label.

“These labels on the RTVE Twitter accounts are wrong and contrary to the essence of Radiotelevision Espanola”

Sveriges Radio

Sweden’s public radio announced on its blog its decision to stop being active on Twitter but did not blame the new labels. Instead, the blog says that Twitter has lost its relevance to Swedish audiences.

“The reason has been that we needed to focus and prioritize Sveriges Radio’s digital presence and Twitter has simply changed over the years and become less important for us.”

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