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10 Apr, 2023 07:00

BBC riled by Twitter ‘government-funded’ label

The broadcaster insists that despite being financed by a mandatory fee, it’s not state-funded
BBC riled by Twitter ‘government-funded’ label

Twitter CEO Elon Musk has ignited a feud with the BBC by labeling the British state broadcaster a “government funded media” organization. The organization has denied taking state money – an untrue statement – and its defenders claim that being funded by the British government differs from being funded by the British public.

In reality, the BBC does accept direct British government funding. For example, it's own website admitted on Monday that it receives "£90million ($111 million) per year from the government to support the BBC World Service."

In addition, it has also taken direct state cash (which included a 2015 grant of £289 million) from the UK's National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review to strengthen London's global "soft power."

Twitter applied the label to the BBC’s main account earlier this week, after slapping US broadcaster NPR with a similar tag describing it as “US state-affiliated media.” While Twitter previously reserved such labels for foreign media outlets – like RT and China’s CGTN, Musk said that applying it to NPR “seems accurate.” 

NPR’s tag was changed to read “government-funded media” after an outcry from US liberals. 

The BBC bristled at receiving the tag. “We are speaking to Twitter to resolve this issue as soon as possible,” the broadcaster said in a statement on Sunday. “The BBC is, and always has been, independent. We are funded by the British public through the licence fee.”

On Twitter, the BBC’s defenders pointed to the license fee as proof of the network’s independence. The BBC, Deadline reporter Jake Kanter argued, “is funded by the British public through a system known as the licence fee. The BBC’s operations and editorial decision-making are entirely independent of the government.”

However, commenters pointed out that the license fee “is a government tax in all but name.”

Set by the government, the fee is an annual payment of £159 ($197) owed by any household with a television or device capable of receiving television broadcasts. The BBC hires contractors to visit the homes of suspected evaders, and those who refuse to pay can be prosecuted by the broadcaster. Around 45,000 people per year are prosecuted for failing to pay the license, the Telegraph reported last month.

The UK’s Office for National Statistics classifies the fee as a tax, and the BBC as part of the “central government sector” of the UK economy. 

Additionally, the broadcaster does actually receive direct government funding for BBC World Service. The TV license covers 75% of the service’s operational costs while the rest is directly paid for by the UK government to the tune of some £90 million ($111 million) per year. Last month, the service was also awarded a £20 million ($24 million) one-time payment to help “fight against the spread of disinformation around the world.” BBC World Service is predominantly aimed at non-UK audiences and broadcasts in over 40 languages.

The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office is also the biggest funder of the BBC’s Media Action service, which additionally receives funding from the governments of the US, Canada, Norway, Sweden, the EU, the UN, as well as donors like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The service supplies two dozen developing countries with “information they can trust,” per the BBC’s own website.

While the BBC stated that it is editorially independent, internal communications published by the Guardian last month showed that its editors asked reporters to avoid using the term “lockdown” when talking about the government’s response to the Coviid-19 pandemic, under direct order from the government. Furthermore, journalists were instructed to be more critical of the opposition Labour Party due to complaints from the government.