Twitter and the CBC were in the spotlight yesterday with Twitter’s decision to add a “government funded media” label to the CBC Twitter account. The label is defined by Twitter as a media organization “where the government provides some or all of the outlet’s funding and may have varying degrees of government involvement over editorial content.” CBC responded by tweeting it would pause its Twitter activities because suggesting that its journalism was anything other than impartial and independent was untrue. The government funding for CBC is undeniable, but the inclusion of “government involvement over editorial content” is apt to mislead. The Broadcasting Act provides guidance on the kinds of content to be found on CBC, but there is an important difference between general policy objectives and specific involvement over editorial content. In fact, Twitter has another label for “publicly funded media” accounts that appear to be better suited to the CBC since it covers “media organizations that receive funding from license fees, individual contributions, public financing, and commercial financing” but makes no reference to editorial content.
The Twitter-CBC labelling battle offers more heat than light since it does little to address the underlying problems with media independence in Canada and the CBC (much less the tire fire that is Twitter). Instead, it simply provides fodder for CBC critics to point to the Twitter label and argue for “defunding the CBC” (at least the English language part of it) and CBC defenders to proclaim that they will stand up for the public broadcaster against unfair smears. That debate distracts from serious underlying problems with government media policy and the public broadcaster.