Update: After the publication of this story, Maine Public announced it would no longer post stories to Twitter.
After Twitter slapped a warning on National Public Radio’s (NPR) account informing users that the media outlet receives taxpayer funding, NPR announced Wednesday it was quitting the social media site.
But Maine Public, NPR’s Maine affiliate, will not be joining in the boycott, Maine Public’s President and CEO Rick Schneider said Wednesday.
As part of ongoing changes at the social media company since Elon Musk purchased it, NPR’s accounts were initially given a label that said “state-affiliated media” this week.
After NPR protested, the label was changed to “government-funded media.”
But NPR still felt the label was inaccurate, so it announced Wednesday that it would no longer post its content to Twitter.
“We are not putting our journalism on platforms that have demonstrated an interest in undermining our credibility,” NPR said in a statement.
But Twitter’s label is technically accurate.
“NPR receives a tiny amount of federal funding directly,” said Schneider, in an email disputing Twitter’s characterization of NPR’s relationship to the federal government.
“Directly” here is the key word.
“Most of what people think of as “government funding”—the Congressional appropriation to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting—is distributed as Community Service Grants to local stations, not NPR,” Schneider said.
While it’s true that NPR receives a relatively small portion of its funding from the federal government, the outlet does benefit substantially from government money that flows to its affiliate stations across the country.
In 2019, tax records show the Corporation for Public Broadcasting received more than $559.9 million in government grants.
That government money then flowed to local nonprofit media companies — like Maine Public — which carry and promote NPR’s content.
In 2019, for example, tax records show more than $1.3 million passed through the Corporation for Public Broadcasting into Maine Public.
Schneider said Maine Public receives roughly 25 percent of its funding from government sources.
Many large media companies operate with local affiliates like NPR, but none of them have the benefit of the government funding 25 percent their local news gathering and distribution.
Musk pushed back on NPR’s decision to flee the site Wednesday afternoon with a tweet noting that NPR’s own website says “federal funding is essential to public radio…”
Even though NPR and its affiliates do receive government funding, Schneider said both versions of Twitter’s label are inaccurate for NPR because they imply that the federal government has some form of editorial control over content decisions.
“The reason “state-affiliated” or “government-funded” is controversial is that it implies editorial control and comparison to true state-run media in other (often authoritarian) countries,” he said.
Before Musk, only outlets like CGTN and RT would bear labels informing users that their content is controlled by the Chinese government or the Russian government.
“There is no government control or influence over NPR or at local stations,” said Schneider.