Twitter in row with BBC after branding it ‘government funded’

Elon Musk’s fight with media organizations continues. After branding America’s National Public Radio (NPR) “state-affiliated” media, Twitter now designated the BBC, Britain’s national broadcaster, “government funded.”

Needless to say, the decision to brand the BBC in this way is not supported by facts – the broadcaster is predominantly funded by individual households via a license fee, and the latter is also required to watch non-BBC channels or live services.

Twitter’s state label was added to the main BBC account with 2.2 million followers, but not to much more popular accounts like BBC News (World) and BBC Breaking News.

The British broadcaster is not sitting idly. It said it had contacted Twitter to ask for explanations, and stressed: “The BBC is, and always has been, independent. We are funded by the British public through the license fee.”

The level of the £159 ($197) annual license fee is set by the government, but paid for by individual UK households, the BBC said. The fee raised nearly $5 billion for the BBC in 2022 while the rest of the broadcaster’s total income came from its commercial and other activities like grants and royalties.

The BBC operates through a Royal Charter agreed with the government which states that the corporation “must be independent”, particularly over “editorial and creative decisions, the times and manner in which its output and services are supplied, and in the management of its affairs".

Musk replied to the BBC himself, saying he believed it was one of the “least biased” outlets. However, according to the BBC, in an email he also said: “We are aiming for maximum transparency and accuracy. Linking to ownership and source of funds probably makes sense.”

"I do think media organizations should be self-aware and not falsely claim the complete absence of bias. All organizations have bias, some obviously much more than others."

And in a reply to a tweet asking him why Twitter doesn’t suspend Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s former president and prime minister who has been attacking Ukraine on the social media platform, Musk said: “All news is to some degree propaganda. Let people decide for themselves.”

Prior to targeting the BBC, Musk’s Twitter also changed the label of the US public broadcaster NPR. It was designated as “state-affiliated media” – on the level of outlets such as Russia’s RT or China’s Xinhua.

The designation was removed and changed to the same “government funded media” handle now applied to the BBC account. Less than 1% of NPR’s budget comes from the US federal government.

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