Broadcaster National Public Radio said Wednesday it would no longer post its news content on 52 official Twitter accounts in protest of the social media site labeling the independent U.S. news agency as “government-funded media.”
NPR is the first major news organization to go silent on Twitter. The social media platform owned by entrepreneur Elon Musk at first labeled NPR as “state-affiliated media,” the same tag it applies to propaganda outlets in China, Russia and other autocratic countries.
Twitter then revised its label to “government-funded media,” but NPR said that, too, was misleading because NPR is a private, nonprofit company with editorial independence. NPR says it receives less than 1% of its $300 million annual budget from the federally funded Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
NPR chief executive John Lansing said that by not posting its news reports on Twitter, the network is protecting its credibility and would continue to produce journalism without “a shadow of negativity.”
In an email to staff explaining the decision, Lansing wrote, “It would be a disservice to the serious work you all do here to continue to share it on a platform that is associating the federal charter for public media with an abandoning of editorial independence or standards.”
He said that even if Twitter were to drop any description of NPR, the network would not immediately return to the platform.
“At this point I have lost my faith in the decision-making at Twitter,” Lansing said in an article posted by NPR. “I would need some time to understand whether Twitter can be trusted again.”
Twitter has also labeled Voice of America, a U.S. government-funded but independent news agency, and the BBC in Britain, as “government-funded media,” a description more commonly employed in describing state-controlled propaganda outlets. VOA has not dropped its use of Twitter but said its description of the news outlet left the impression that it was not independent.
Bridget Serchak, VOA’s director of public relations, said, “The label ‘government funded’ is potentially misleading and could be construed as also ‘government-controlled’ — which VOA is most certainly not.”
“Our editorial firewall, enshrined in the law, prohibits any interference from government officials at any level in its news coverage and editorial decision-making process,” Serchak said in an email. “VOA will continue to emphasize this distinction in our discussions with Twitter, as this new label on our network causes unwarranted and unjustified concern about the accuracy and objectivity of our news coverage.”
VOA is funded by the U.S. government and is part of the U.S. Agency for Global Media, but its editorial independence is protected by regulations and a firewall. The BBC said it “is, and always has been, independent.”
Press freedom advocates have also objected to Twitter’s labeling of NPR, VOA and the BBC.
“The confusion between media serving the general interest and propaganda media is dangerous, and is yet further proof that social media platforms are not competent to identify what is and is not journalism,” Vincent Berthier, head of the technology desk at Reporters Without Borders, said in a statement.
Liam Scott contributed to this report.