Friday, October 27, 2023

NZ Radio May Quit Twitter Due to ‘Government’ Tag


New Zealand’s public radio broadcaster, Radio New Zealand (RNZ), has threatened to leave Twitter after Elon Musk’s decision to label certain media accounts as “government-funded”. The label is used by Twitter to describe outlets that “may have varying degrees of government involvement over editorial content”. However, RNZ’s head of content, Megan Whelan, has argued that the label does not reflect the broadcaster’s editorial independence. Whelan stated that RNZ’s editorial independence is protected by law and that the broadcaster guards it vigorously. RNZ is now considering its options, including talking to Twitter to have the label removed or revised, or leaving the platform altogether.

RNZ’s statement comes after publicly-funded National Public Radio and Public Broadcasting Service in the United States quit Twitter in protest against what they view as Musk’s efforts to undermine their legitimacy. Twitter has recently added the “government-funded” label to publicly funded outlets, including the UK’s BBC, Canada’s CBC, Voice of America and Al Jazeera. This followed an earlier decision to apply a “state-affiliated media” tag to NPR, which drew a backlash. Prior to Musk taking control of Twitter last year, the “state-affiliated media” label had been reserved for government mouthpieces such as China’s Xinhua and Russia’s RT. Musk later suggested that the NPR decision was a mistake, saying it “might not be accurate” to describe the broadcaster as state media.

RNZ’s threat to leave Twitter highlights the ongoing debate surrounding the role of public broadcasters and their relationship with government funding. While public broadcasters are often funded by governments, they are expected to maintain editorial independence and impartiality. This is particularly important in countries where media ownership is concentrated in the hands of a few powerful individuals or corporations. Public broadcasters can provide a counterbalance to this by offering diverse perspectives and promoting democratic values.

However, the relationship between public broadcasters and governments can be fraught with tension. Governments may seek to influence editorial content, particularly during times of political upheaval or crisis. Public broadcasters may also face budget cuts or other forms of pressure if they are seen as being too critical of the government. In some cases, governments may even seek to shut down public broadcasters altogether.

Despite these challenges, public broadcasters continue to play a vital role in many countries. They provide a platform for diverse voices and perspectives, promote democratic values, and help to hold those in power accountable. In countries where media ownership is heavily concentrated, public broadcasters can offer a much-needed alternative to corporate media.

However, the rise of social media has created new challenges for public broadcasters. Social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook have become important sources of news and information for many people. However, these platforms are also vulnerable to manipulation and disinformation. Governments and other actors may seek to use social media to spread propaganda or undermine public trust in traditional media outlets.

In this context, the decision by Twitter to label certain media accounts as “government-funded” can be seen as an attempt to increase transparency and promote trust in the media. However, the move has also been criticised by some who argue that it unfairly stigmatises publicly-funded media outlets and undermines their editorial independence.

The debate surrounding the role of public broadcasters and their relationship with government funding is likely to continue. As social media platforms become increasingly important sources of news and information, it is important that we find ways to ensure that public broadcasters can continue to play a vital role in promoting democratic values and holding those in power accountable.

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