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Twitter has removed labels that described prominent news organizations as “government-funded” or “state-affiliated” after NPR and public broadcasters in several countries criticized the labels as misleading and suspended the use of their Twitter accounts.
The removal of the labels was the latest shift that Twitter has made abruptly and without explanation under the leadership of its owner, Elon Musk.
Twitter made the change one day after it began removing check mark icons from the profiles of thousands of celebrities, politicians and journalists whose identities it had verified before Mr. Musk bought the company for $44 billion in October. Twitter, which automatically responds to press inquiries via email with a poop emoji, did not immediately comment on Friday.
NPR reported that Mr. Musk said in an email that Twitter had dropped all media labels and that “this was Walter Isaacson’s suggestion,” apparently referring to the author and former media executive who is working on a book about Mr. Musk. Mr. Isaacson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
NPR said last week that it would suspend all Twitter use after the social network designated the broadcaster “U.S. state-affiliated media.”
Twitter then changed the label on the NPR Twitter account to “Government-funded Media.” It gave the same designation to PBS, which also said it would stop tweeting from its account.
NPR said last week that it received less than 1 percent of its annual operating budget in the form of grants from the government-funded Corporation for Public Broadcasting and other federal agencies and departments. It said its two largest sources of revenue are corporate sponsorships and fees paid by member stations, which rely heavily on donations from listeners.
PBS says on its website that, because it is commercial-free, many people mistakenly believe the government provides the bulk of its funding. But federal funding accounts for only about 15 percent of its revenue, the broadcaster said.
Twitter also applied the “Government-funded Media” label to the account of the BBC, the national broadcaster of Britain, until it was changed to “publicly funded media.” The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation objected to Mr. Musk’s decision to label it “69% Government-funded Media” and said it was pausing the use of its Twitter account.
In a statement issued on Thursday, the Global Task Force, a group that represents the national public broadcasters of eight countries, including Canada, Britain and France, objected to Twitter’s labeling of four of its members as “Government-funded Media.”
The group said that the “misleading label” had been applied “without warning or consultation” to the Twitter accounts of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, CBC/Radio-Canada, the Korean Broadcasting System and Radio New Zealand. The editorial independence of all four broadcasters is protected by law and enshrined in their editorial policies, the statement said.
“Labeling them in this way misleads audiences about their operational and editorial independence from government,” the group said.
That argument was similar to the one made by Isabel Lara, NPR’s chief communications officer, who said last week that “NPR’s organizational accounts will no longer be active on Twitter because the platform is taking actions that undermine our credibility by falsely implying that we are not editorially independent.”
By Friday, Twitter had removed the “government-funded” labels from the accounts of NPR, the BBC, PBS, the CBC and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
The “state-affiliated media” label has also been removed from the Twitter accounts of the Chinese state news agency Xinhua and the Russian state media outlet RT. The page on Twitter’s website that detailed its policy on media labels has been removed.
NPR did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday, but John Lansing, NPR’s chief executive, has said that the broadcaster would not immediately return to Twitter, even if the “Government-funded Media” label were removed.
“I would need some time to understand whether Twitter can be trusted again,” he said in an interview on NPR last week.
PBS declined to comment on Friday. The CBC said in an email, “We are reviewing this latest development and will leave our Twitter accounts on pause before taking any next steps.”