TORONTO — CBC/Radio-Canada said it is “pausing” its use of Twitter, a day after its main account was labelled "government-funded media" by the social media platform.
"Twitter can be a powerful tool for our journalists to communicate with Canadians, but it undermines the accuracy and professionalism of the work they do to allow our independence to be falsely described in this way," CBC media relations director Leon Mar said in a statement announcing the change Monday afternoon.
"Consequently, we will be pausing our activity on our corporate Twitter account and all CBC and Radio-Canada news-related accounts."
Mar added in an afternoon email to The Canadian Press that Twitter did not consult the public broadcaster before applying the label Sunday and thus, CBC has sent a letter to Twitter asking the company to re-examine the designation.
Twitter updated CBC's label to "70% government-funded" Monday evening, after a user on the platform posted that the broadcaster receives 70 per cent of its funding from the Canadian government.
"Just trying to be accurate. Would they be okay if we said 70% govt funded?" Twitter chief executive Elon Musk replied.
Later, following another user's suggestion, he adjusted the label to "69% government-funded" and tweeted "generosity is always the right move. 69% it is!"
Twitter's website 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." Twitter's policy links to a Wikipedia page listing "publicly funded broadcasters" it said it may use in determining when this label should be applied.
CBC does not meet those criteria, Mar argued Sunday, because it is publicly funded through a parliamentary appropriation that is voted upon by all MPs, and its editorial independence is protected in law in the Broadcasting Act.
The CBC's board of directors determines how the funding it receives is spent. In 2021-22, the CBC received more than $1.2 billion in government funding, a decrease from about $1.4 billion the year before. That compares with other revenue of $650 million in 2021-22 and $500 million the year before.
Twitter responded to multiple requests for comment about why the label was applied and whether it would be removed or changed with an auto-generated email bearing a poop emoji.
Last week, National Public Radio (NPR) announced it would quit Twitter over the social media company labelling it “state-affiliated media,” a term often associated with outlets controlled by authoritarian regimes.
Twitter later changed the label to “government-funded media” and began doling it out to other publishers including the BBC, which had previously been named as an exception to the "state-affiliated media" label. The BBC's label was later changed to "publicly-funded media."
Ahead of the CBC announcing its plan to pause its use of Twitter, Vass Bednar said the public broadcaster should leave the platform because the tag it was given erroneously positions CBC as an extension of the government that is not intellectually independent.
"In the immediate moment, it feels like an opportunity to refresh the public's understanding of how they're funded and how they maintain their editorial independence," said Bednar, the executive director of McMaster University's master of public policy in digital society.
Friends of Canadian Broadcasting said Monday that it wrote to Twitter asking for CBC's new designation to be removed because it is “incorrect and misleading.”
While Dwayne Winseck was still considering what action CBC should take, the professor at Carleton’s University’s School of Journalism and Communication said he believes CBC should at least team up with NPR and other public service media outlets to develop a shared strategy for dealing with the whims of social media giants.
“Maybe working toward a more joined-up action would be a great way to go and if all, public service broadcasters yank their services (from Twitter), I think that's an interesting point to be made and it will give them much more clout,” he said.
Winseck said Twitter’s labelling of CBC’s account is “hugely problematic” because it doesn't capture some of the nuances of CBC’s funding and its editorial independence.
He thought the move was meant to “delegitimize" the CBC and public service media, highlighting why it's important that platforms such as Twitter not have “unbridled power to unilaterally impose labels like this that have the effect of influencing the conditions and distribution of news media.”
The changes were made as Musk, the billionaire behind Tesla and SpaceX, continues to lead the company he bought for US$44 billion last October.
He has since pledged to make several changes to the platform, including removing verified blue check marks for users that don't pay for his subscription service and recently, temporarily changed its blue bird logo to a shiba inu dog, a reference to the Dogecoin cryptocurrency he has invested in.
"I think every incremental, strange, random change that Elon Musk has made to Twitter seems like it's fundamentally a test of the user stickiness," said Bednar.
"Are people actually going to exit the platform? Do they have an alternative or are they willing to extinguish or silence their digital voices?"
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 17, 2023.
Tara Deschamps, The Canadian Press