Canadian broadcaster latest to ‘pause’ Twitter over funding label

Public broadcaster CBC said it was effectively quitting the platform over its ‘government-funded’ media label.

A Twitter logo hangs outside the company's offices in San Francisco, California [File: Jeff Chiu/The Associated Press]

The Canadian public broadcaster CBC has said it is effectively quitting Twitter, becoming the latest news organisation to challenge new labels assigned on the site under the ownership of billionaire Elon Musk.

In a statement on Monday, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) and its French-language version Radio-Canada said Twitter had added a “government-funded media” label to its account.

As a result, the broadcaster explained it was “pausing” its activities on the platform. It denounced the label as “untrue and deceptive”.

“Twitter can be a powerful tool for our journalists to communicate with Canadians, but it undermines the accuracy and professionalism of the work they do to allow our independence to be falsely described in this way,” the CBC said.

As a “Crown corporation”, the CBC does receive funding through parliamentary votes. But a spokesperson for the news agency noted that its editorial independence was protected under Canadian broadcasting law.

Twitter has defined “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”.

The CBC’s response follows a similar outcry from Radio New Zealand (RNZ), also a public broadcaster, which threatened to leave the site on Monday.

“Not only is our editorial independence protected by the law, we guard it vigorously,” its head of content Megan Whelan said in a statement on Twitter.

In the United States, National Public Radio (NPR) and the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) also announced last week they were stepping away from Twitter after they were subject to labels they felt misrepresented their editorial independence and funding models.

Several state public broadcasters have followed suit in recent days.

In Canada, Twitter’s decision to affix the “government-funded” label to the CBC was met with support from some conservative politicians.

Pierre Poilievre, the leader of Canada’s Conservative Party, applauded the move on his Twitter account, calling the CBC “propaganda” for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, “not news”.

The conservative leader had previously said he personally wrote to Musk to call for the CBC to receive the “government-funded” label. Poilievre has also called for the news organisation to be defunded.

In response, Trudeau on Monday accused Poilievre of “attacking this Canadian institution, attacking the culture and local content that is so important to so many Canadians”.

Musk took control of Twitter in a $44bn deal in October. Describing himself as a “free speech absolutist”, he had long bristled at Twitter’s content moderation policies, which he has since relaxed.

But since Musk’s takeover, critics have accused the billionaire of showing a disregard for press freedom on the platform.

Musk briefly suspended certain journalists’ accounts after they shared publicly available information about the location of his jet. And last month, Musk announced that any press inquiries to Twitter would receive an automatic reply in the form of a poo emoji.

As of Monday, Twitter listed three categories to describe news organisation affiliations: “state-affiliated”, “government-funded” and “publicly funded”.

NPR was initially listed as “state-affiliated”, which Twitter defines 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 later switched NPR label to “government-funded” amid criticism that its initial tag put the outlet in the same category as propaganda for Russia and China.

Meanwhile, the British Broadcasting Company (BBC) was initially listed as “government-funded” but has since been given the “publicly funded” tag, which Twitter defines as “media organizations that receive funding from license fees, individual contributions, public financing and commercial financing”.

In an interview with the BBC last week, Musk said of the labelling decision: “I thought it was a way to be as truthful and accurate as possible”.

Writing for the Brookings Institution research group, Courtney Radsch, a fellow at the UCLA Institute for Technology, Law and Policy, argued that the labelling is misleading because it overlooks other forms of government support that an array of media outlets receive across the world.

“The terms state-controlled and government-funded raise questions about the utility of employing such blunt terms and not including information about how other news media are funded and operate,” she wrote.

“The selective application of labels to some news media and not others also raise concerns about perception and consistency”.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies