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State-funded media outlets labelled on Twitter… and they don’t like it

In brief
  • Twitter is forcing news outlets that take government money to carry a header on their account.
  • Many on the left are upset and say the labels like  “Government-funded media”, hurt their credibility.
  • RNZ now carries the label “Government-funded media” and they don’t like it, but many on the political right are applauding the move.

Twitter adds “context” 

Twitter under Elon Musk has rolled out of a new policy of labelling media accounts and tweets that receive taxpayer money. Broadcasters will be in one of three categories. “Government-funded media”, “Publicly-funded media” “State-affiliated media”. 

“Government-funded media” outlets are defined as follows: 

“where the government provides some or all of the outlet’s funding and may have varying degrees of government involvement over editorial content.”

“Publicly-funded media” is for organisations that receive funding from licence fees, individual contributions, public and commercial financing. “State-affiliated media” are outlets that take editorial direction directly from the state. 

State-funded media outlets labelled on Twitter… and they don't like it - Centrist
Megan Whelan – Head of digital content at RNZ says they’re not biassed by the Government funding they receive.

RNZ: funded by Government

Radio New Zealand (RNZ) will carry the moniker “Government-funded media” on both the page bio and on every tweet. The move is designed to provide context. Other outlets in NZ such as TVNZ have so far not been assigned one of the three labels. 

RNZ denies their account warrants the label. Megan Whelan, RNZ head of  digital content, says Twitter’s policy has been applied to the state broadcaster in error. 

The policy uses the word “may”. From Twitter’s perspective, strictly speaking, even without direct government influence, RNZ fits the definition. However, Whelan argues the Government can’t influence editorial content.

Whalen’s argument doesn’t wash with independent media outlets like The Platform, Reality Check Radio, and ourselves, who receive no government funding.

Any source of a large proportion of funding represents a clear conflict of interest in coverage regarding that source. Standard journalistic practice is to declare similar conflicts as context for articles.

Right vs left

The policy is causing a lot of consternation amongst the left. They say it hurts the outlets’ “credibility”. Regardless of the truth of that, many on the right applaud the move.

A long standing suspicion of public opposition is RNZ and other media have been unduly influenced in their editorial content by government funding in the form of the Public Interest Journalism Fund (PIJF). The Government-run PIJF requires recipients to adhere to ideological positions favoured by the Labour Party on partisan issues of race such as interpretations of the Treaty of Waitangi and co-governance. It should also be noted these organisations can be primed to develop a leaning and that, in itself, removes objectivity.

PIJF recipients have been contemptuously labelled the Team of $55 million by critics. There’s also been a lot of speculation over the role of The Disinformation Project’s cosy relationship with the Government and in turn much of the mainstream media.

The Government recently announced a further $25m a year “funding boost” for RNZ. 

The ongoing culture wars have many on the political right expressing frustration as they say highly partisan views have been uncritically championed by state broadcasters. Those include narratives around COVID, co-governance, trans rights, climate change and other issues.

Overseas media

In Canada, CBC, the state broadcaster disagrees with the label for the same reasons as RNZ, and announced they’re “pausing” their use of Twitter. The CBC receives at least two thirds of their funding from the taxpayer. 

In the United States, NPR (National Public Radio) said they’re leaving the platform after being labelled as “Government-funded media”.

Australian and UK outlets, ABC News and BBC have also been labelled by Twitter.

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