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State-Affiliated or Government-Funded Media? NPR Leaves Twitter

Ground NewsApr 13, 2023
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NPR has officially become the first major U.S. news organization to leave Twitter, announcing that they will no longer post their content to the platform. Their departure comes after a weeklong dispute after Twitter labeled NPR as “state-affiliated media,” putting it in line with Russia’s RT. After receiving criticism for the move, Twitter updated NPR’s label to “government-funded media,” and also applied this label to other outlets like the BBC.


But what’s the difference between “state-affiliated media” and “government-funded media”? 


We took a look at three outlets central to the controversy and broke down how much government funding they receive, how the level of funding is set, and the systems that shape how they receive the funds.


Twitter defines state-affiliated media 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. Accounts belonging to state-affiliated media entities, their editors-in-chief, and/or their prominent staff may be labeled. We will also add labels to Tweets that share links to state-affiliated media websites.” Examples of media outlets with this label on Twitter include RT, Xinhua, and TASS.


In contrast, 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.” Examples of media outlets that have sported this label on Twitter include NPR, Voice of America, and BBC, though BBC’s account has since been updated to display a “publicly-funded media” label. 


NPR says it receives less than 1% of its funding directly from the U.S. federal government, but says it receives up to 10% of its funding indirectly from federal, state, and local governments. Most of NPR’s funding (70%) comes from corporate sponsorships and dues from local radio stations. These stations receive large portions of their funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), a publicly funded entity whose budget is decided by Congress. Congress funds the CPB, which then funds the local member stations that purchase NPR’s content, thus indirectly funding NPR.


In response to the label, NPR has said, “Under no circumstances do we skew our reports for personal gain, to help NPR’s bottom line or to please those who fund us.”


To compare, the BBC is established through a royal charter and funded by the British public through annual license fees set by the government. U.K. households and businesses pay £159 annually to the U.K. government for a TV license fee to stream any live broadcasts, including from the BBC. In 2022, the BBC received £3.8 billion from the government, accounting for around 71% of its total income.


In response to the government-funded media label, the BBC said, “The BBC is, and always has been, independent. We are funded by the British public through the licence fee.” Twitter has since updated its label to “publicly-funded media.”


RT, on the other hand, has a state-affiliated media label on Twitter and is directly funded by the Russian government. The Federal Agency for Press and Mass Media sets funding for RT and other state-funded outlets, though the amount of funding can be overridden by the President, as was the case in 2012 when Putin chose to allocate $10M more in funding for RT than the agency planned. RT is expected to receive about $335M annually from the government, making it the leader in state funding among all Russian media.


RT says it is “an autonomous, non-profit organization that is publicly financed from the budget of the Russian Federation.” The U.S. Department of State describes RT as a “critical element in Russia’s disinformation and propaganda ecosystem.”


So, what’s the difference?


All three news sources claim to be autonomous and free of government influence. However, all three news sources ultimately have some portion of their budget decided by the government. What separates the three sources is the democratic norms and press freedom in the country they operate in.


Reporters Without Borders’ Press Freedom Index measures the level of freedom journalists have to do their work in 180 countries around the world, taking into account factors such as censorship, restrictions on access to information, and violence against journalists. The U.K. ranks 15th on the Press Freedom Index, indicating a relatively high level of press freedom in the country. The U.S. ranked 42nd. Russia, on the other hand, ranked 155th, indicating a very low level of press freedom in the country.


To learn more about NPR, the BBC, RT, and other sources, download the Ground News app to see their ownership, bias ratings, and the news content they produce.