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BBC complains to Twitter over ‘government-funded media’ tag

The BBC has complained to Twitter after a “government-funded media” label was added to one of the public broadcaster’s main accounts on the social media site.

The tag was added to the @BBC account, which has 2.2mn followers, over the weekend, and marks the latest in a series of changes to Twitter pushed through by its new owner Elon Musk.

The corporation said in a statement that it was “speaking to Twitter to resolve this issue as soon as possible”, adding: “The BBC is, and always has been, independent. We are funded by the British public through the licence fee.”

Elon Musk said on Twitter that “more granularity” was required to describe editorial influence at media organisations “as it varies greatly”, adding: “I don’t actually think the BBC is as biased as some other government-funded media, but it is silly of the BBC to claim zero influence . . . Minor government influence in their case would be accurate.”

Similar labels have been added in recent days to accounts run by US public service broadcasters PBS, Voice of America and NPR, which are all at least partly government-funded.

Twitter initially branded NPR’s account as “state-affiliated media” — a tag also applied to Russian state news agency Tass — but reversed the decision after the broadcaster stopped using the account in protest and its chief executive criticised the move.

The BBC operates under a royal charter agreed with the UK government, which enshrines its independence from the state. Almost three-quarters of the corporation’s £5.3bn annual budget comes from a £159 annual TV licence fee. The level is set by the government but the fee is paid directly by British households.

The BBC World Service, however, does receive about £90mn in direct funding from the government each year. None of the separate Twitter accounts for either the World Service, BBC News or BBC World News have had the “government-funded media” tag applied to them. The @BBCWorld account has nearly 40mn followers.

The main @BBC account largely shares non-news content, such as promotions of TV and radio shows, to the BBC’s domestic audience.

The Twitter tag links to a separate web page that explains the reasoning behind tags applied to “government” and “state-affiliated media” accounts but does not explain the “government-funded media” classification.

The page 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”.

When a BBC News journalist approached Musk for comment about the tag, he responded over email, asking: “Is the Twitter label accurate?” the broadcaster reported on Monday.

He also indicated in a later email that “linking to ownership and source of funds probably makes sense” and added that while he thought all media organisations “have bias”, the BBC was among “the least biased”.

Twitter previously announced plans to remove verified blue ticks from users who had not signed up to its subscription service from the start of April, as part of the rollout of its $8 a month Twitter Blue service. Earlier this month, the New York Times’ main Twitter account had its blue tick removed.

Twitter did not respond to a request for comment.

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