NPR quits Twitter after being labeled ‘Government-funded Media’ in bio

WASHINGTON, DC – FEBRUARY 22: A view of the National Public Radio (NPR) headquarters on North Capitol Street February 22, 2023 in Washington, DC. NPR CEO John Lansing announced in a memo to staff that the network is planning to lay off around 10% of its workforce, citing a decline in advertising revenue. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

OAN Brooke Mallory
UPDATED 12:33 PM – Wednesday, April 12, 2023

National Public Radio (NPR) will stop updating its 52 official Twitter feeds with new information and content, making it the first major news organization to stop posting on the social networking site.

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The NPR network was originally classified as “State-affiliated media,” and is now being classified as “Government-funded media” in their Twitter bio, which is the same label that Twitter employs for propaganda operations in countries like Russia, China, and other totalitarian nations.

Elon Musk, the CEO of Twitter, and his decision to categorize them as such essentially takes away the company’s own perception of themselves as being an independent, non-biased news organization.

Last week, the public radio network was caught off guard by Twitter’s move. Musk inquired about NPR’s operations when questioned by Bobby Allyn, an NPR tech reporter. Musk then acknowledged that he might have made a mistake.

In light of the fact that NPR claims to be a private, nonprofit institution with editorial independence, the news organization argues that the label is both false and deceptive. They say that less than 1% of its $300 million yearly budget comes from the federal government for public broadcasting.

According to John Lansing, NPR’s CEO, by remaining mute on Twitter, the network is preserving its reputation and its capacity to create journalism free of “a shadow of negativity.”

“The downside, whatever the downside, doesn’t change that fact… I would never have our content go anywhere that would risk our credibility,” explained Lansing.

Musk said he might go as far as to modify the label to “publicly-funded” in a BBC interview that was posted online on Wednesday. The strategists at NPR were unaffected by his statements. Even if Twitter were to completely remove the designation, Lansing claims the network would not return to the service right away.

“At this point I have lost my faith in the decision-making at Twitter… I would need some time to understand whether Twitter can be trusted again,” said Lansing.

According to Lansing, each NPR employee and journalist is free to choose whether or not to use Twitter moving forward.

“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,” Lansing said in an email sent to his employees.

For many years, journalists relied heavily on Twitter to disseminate their reporting, connect with people attending important events and reliable sources, and watch news developments. That has been undercut by Musk’s frequent, disclosed policy changes. According to Lansing, the decline in Twitter’s culture, which was already frequently rife with controversial content, was a factor in NPR’s decision to abandon the platform.

Lansing says that Musk is emphasizing the incorrect component of the equation.

“The whole point isn’t whether or not we’re government funded,” Lansing says. “Even if we were government funded, which we’re not, the point is the independence, because all journalism has revenue of some sort.”

Many found this statement to be puzzling since Lansing basically implied that the network receives zero money from the federal government, which is not the case.

NPR’s website states that their funding: “comes from corporate and individual supporters and grants. It also receives significant programming fees from member stations. Those stations, in turn, receive about 13 percent of their funds from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) and other state and federal government sources.”

The company claims that their “board is appointed without any government influence. And the network has at times tangled with both Democratic and Republican administrations. For example, NPR joined with other media organizations to press the Obama administration for access to closed hearings involving detainees held by U.S. authorities at Guantanamo Bay. And ‘All Things Considered’ host Mary Louise Kelly stood her ground in questioning then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo over then-President Donald Trump’s actions in Ukraine despite being berated by Pompeo.”

However, researchers and journalists at influencewatch.org categorized NPR as “a national nonprofit media outlet created and funded by the federal government. Though the organization claims to strive for objectivity, many media watchdogs consider NPR to have a left-of-center bias.”

Influencewatch.org researchers also claimed that: “NPR is officially a private company, but up until 1983, it received over half of its funding from the federal government through the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB). In that year, NPR nearly went bankrupt after years of financial mismanagement, and in the subsequent restructuring process, the organization was put under tighter controls by the CPB in exchange for loans. Since the late 1980s, NPR generated increasing amounts of its revenue from charitable donations and licensing fees, though a significant portion of the fees come from private local stations which receive funding from CPB and state and local governments. Presently, NPR receives funding for less than 1% of its budget directly from the federal government, but receives almost 10% of its budget from federal, state, and local governments indirectly.”

It’s unclear if losing access to Twitter will significantly impact NPR’s ability to connect with its online audience. A million more people follow NPR on Twitter (8.8 million followers) than those who follow them on Facebook. NPR’s Facebook posts, however, are frequently more likely to encourage engagement or click-throughs to NPR’s own website since Facebook is a much broader platform.

The decision by NPR comes after a week of public controversy in which Musk used his platform to question the reliability of other major news organizations.

Prior to purchasing Twitter in October, the billionaire had stated he would delete checkmarks from the accounts of established news sites unless the outlets paid for them like everyone else. The coveted verification symbols once indicated that Twitter had independently confirmed the legitimacy of an account belonging to a journalistic outlet, the government, or a notable individual. However, they are now available for purchase by any user through a monthly subscription.

Earlier this month, Musk also singled out The New York Times, taking away its check mark and decrying its reporting as propaganda.

Currently, Twitter’s communications department only uses the poop emoji to reply to emails from journalists.

Originally, according to Twitter’s past policies, “State-financed media organizations with editorial independence, like the BBC in the UK or NPR in the US, for example, are not defined as state-affiliated media for the purposes of this policy.” However, that policy has now been removed from the site.

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