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CBC mainly remains off X, citing low traffic six months after scaling back presence

OTTAWA — Six months after the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.
Six months after CBC/Radio-Canada scaled back its use on X, the public broadcaster says it will mostly remain off the platform, formerly known as Twitter, because it doesn't bring in a lot of traffic for them. The opening page of X is displayed on a computer and phone in Sydney, Monday, Oct. 16, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Rick Rycroft

OTTAWA — Six months after the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. and Radio-Canada scaled back its use of the social media site X, the public broadcaster says it will mostly remain off the platform formerly known as Twitter because it doesn't bring in a lot of traffic.

Leon Mar, a spokesperson for the public broadcaster, said CBC's focus is to engage Canadians on other platforms and to continue driving traffic to its websites and streaming services. 

"The audience and engagement that we get from X is small. Among our social media platforms, X is among the smallest sources of traffic," he told The Canadian Press when asked why it hasn't fully returned.

Although CBC was unwilling to share its data, Mar pointed to a 2022 Reuters Institute report that shows just 11 per cent of Canadians use X for news. 

CBC significantly reduced its presence on X in April after the social media company labelled it as "government-funded media." Similar tags also appeared on other international public broadcasters such as the BBC in the U.K. and the American network National Public Radio. 

NPR said quitting X has resulted in an "expected small decline in audience." 

"Before this decision, Twitter referrals made up less than two per cent of’s audience – with a majority coming from our biggest news accounts (@npr and @nprpolitics)," Chief Communications Officer Isabel Lara said in a statement. "In the months after ‘Twexit,’ NPR has seen a one percentage point decline in total weekly users to our website that can be attributed to the decision."

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre had asked X to apply the government-funded label to CBC's English-language accounts days before the tag appeared.

The social-media giant defines "government-funded" media as outlets that "may have varying degrees of government involvement over editorial content.'' Poilievre has said he believes that applies to CBC, an assertion the broadcaster has emphatically and repeatedly denied.

Poilievre has pledged to "defund the CBC" should he become prime minister, but has suggested that would involve exceptions for Radio-Canada, the broadcaster's French-language arm. At the Conservative party's policy convention in Quebec City last month, delegates gathered behind closed doors decided against advancing a submission to change the party policy to pull federal funding from both the CBC's French and English wings.

Last week, the Tories also called on Parliament to study editorial decisions that were independently made by the public broadcaster. Their motion at a House committee meeting was rejected by Liberal, NDP and Bloc Québécois MPs, citing concerns it went against broadcasting law and expressing fears the Conservatives wanted to turn the public broadcaster into state television, such as outlets that operate in Russia and China. 

In a letter written to X's head of global government affairs Nick Pickles on April 17, the CBC said their label was "factually incorrect" because the government doesn't have involvement in CBC's editorial decisions.

"Twitter has said that adding designations to media is designed to help accuracy and clarity for users of Twitter. In this case, this label has done the opposite," reads the letter, which was obtained by The Canadian Press through access-to-information laws. 

"We were not advised of this decision and if we had, we could have provided you with the information to demonstrate our editorial independence."

CBC/Radio-Canada is funded through a combination of parliamentary appropriation and commercially earned revenue, Claude Galipeau, executive vice-president of corporate development for CBC/Radio-Canada wrote in the letter.

All elected members of Parliament vote for CBC/Radio-Canada funding, not just members of the government, and its editorial independence is enshrined in the Broadcasting Act.

CBC argued "publicly funded media" would have been a more accurate label.

"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," Galipeau said in the letter. 

While it asked X to examine its decision, CBC spokesman Leon Mar said the network "never received a response."

Four days after the letter was sent, X removed the "government-funded media'' description on a number of public broadcasters' accounts, including CBC's, without explanation.

The move came after the Global Task Force for public media called on X to correct its description of public broadcasters in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Korea.

In May, CBC decided to resume activity on a handful of umbrella accounts such as @CBCNews, @cbcradio and regional accounts such as @CBCCalgary and @CBCNL, but there's no plan to fully return. 

"CBC/Radio-Canada has decided to reduce the overall footprint of our activity on that platform, including by sunsetting accounts for some programs," Mar said.

CBC received nearly $1.3 billion in government funding in 2022-23 through parliamentary appropriation. CBC also makes money through advertising, subscriptions and syndication.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 22, 2023. 

Mickey Djuric, The Canadian Press