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Twitter adds “state media” label to NPR account

NPR headquarters in Washington, D.C., on November 8, 2018. (Photo by Allison Shelley/NPR/Handout)

Executives at public media company NPR are criticizing social platform Twitter for adding a “state-affiliated media” label to the radio organization’s main profile.

The label was quietly added to NPR’s main profile overnight, despite previous assertions by Twitter that the public media outlet didn’t qualify for the label under the social platform’s policies.

According to Twitter’s policy, the “state-affiliated media” label applies to media outlets where “the state exercises control over editorial content through financial resources, direct or indirect political pressures, and/or control over production and distribution.”

News outlets that qualify for the label include the BBC, the British public broadcaster that is funded through a license fee paid by citizens and whose output is heavily regulated by the government.

The operation and funding of the BBC is fundamentally different from that of NPR, though: NPR receives grants through the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which is funded by acts of Congress. But Congress doesn’t exert control over NPR’s editorial output, and the majority of the public media’s funding comes from member stations like WNYC (820 AM, 93.9 FM) in New York and KQED (88.5 FM) in San Francisco.

On Wednesday, NPR President and CEO John Lansing criticized Twitter’s decision to add the state-affiliated media label, saying Twitter’s own policies suggest the label shouldn’t apply to the organization.

“NPR and our member stations are supported by millions of listeners who depend on us for the independent, fact-based journalism we provide,” Lansing said. “NPR stands for freedom of speech and holding the powerful accountable; it is unacceptable for Twitter to label us this way.”

According to Forbes, Twitter’s policy once explicitly carried a carve-out exemption for NPR, but that reference was apparently deleted this week. The website used archive copies of Twitter’s website on the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine to compare the company’s policy before and after the label was applied to NPR’s account.

It was the latest example of ever-shifting policies and practices at Twitter since technology mogul Elon Musk took over the company in late October. Musk has been known to target journalists and news organizations that he disagrees with: In December, he suspended the accounts of several high-profile journalists who covered news about the movement of his private jet. Last week, he pulled the blue verification badge from the main account used by the New York Times.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is the publisher of The Desk and reports on the business and policy matters involving the broadcast television, streaming video and radio industries. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, Disney-ABC, Tribune Broadcasting and McNaughton Newspapers. Matthew is based in Northern California, has won numerous awards in the field of journalism, and is a member of IRE (Investigative Reporters and Editors).