Musk Calls NPR 'State Affiliated'

Designation should be reserved for real dictators such as communist China

Musk Calls NPR 'State Affiliated'
A phone screen displays a photo of Elon Musk with the Twitter logo shown in the background in Washington on Oct. 4, 2022. (Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images)
Anders Corr
On April 4, National Public Radio staff discovered that the media outlet’s Twitter page suddenly had the same designation of “state-affiliated media” as did outlets controlled by dictatorial regimes such as China and Russia.
An NPR spokeswoman initially said she thought it was a mistake, as it contradicts Twitter’s own guidelines, which previously excepted outlets such as NPR and BBC, which receive state funding but maintain an independent editorial board.
On the evening of April 4, Twitter removed NPR from its exception list but left the BBC.
NPR gets about 1 percent of its funding directly from the federal government, though about 10 percent comes indirectly through federal, state, and local government sources, according to Influence Watch. NPR also gets listener donations, corporate sponsorships, and grants.

The latest NPR kerfuffle comes amid a longstanding controversy over whether taxpayers should fund biased media outlets. Like most prominent U.S. outlets, NPR is left-leaning.

NPR received more than half its funding from the federal government from its founding in 1970 until 1983, when mismanagement led its major funder, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, to require NPR to obtain more funding from independent sources.

Apparent confirmation that the “state-affiliated media” designation was purposeful came when Elon Musk, the billionaire owner of Twitter, replied to a user who complimented him on the move. “Seems accurate,” Musk wrote in a tweet.

This elicited a storm of protest in the press against the designation, as NPR is generally seen as having an independent editorial policy. However, like all media outlets, it has its own bias on the left–right spectrum.

Most prominent news media in the United States, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times, are left of center.

NPR is far closer to other prominent media outlets on both sides of the spectrum than to the likes of China Daily and Russia Today, which are both state-controlled media.

NPR and a similar outlet in Britain that is also center-left, the BBC, have independent newsrooms but some government funding. The public funding plays a role different from that of funding from the Putin and Xi regimes.

In the United States, for example, government funding of public media allows for some freedom of the press from the preferences of corporate advertisers and billionaires, such as Jeff Bezos, who bought The Washington Post, and the Murdoch family, which controls The Wall Street Journal and Fox News.

 A China Daily newspaper box is with other free daily papers in New York on Jan. 20, 2021. (Chung I Ho/The Epoch Times)
A China Daily newspaper box is with other free daily papers in New York on Jan. 20, 2021. (Chung I Ho/The Epoch Times)

Multiple mainstream news outlets on both left and right have taken millions in advertising dollars from China Daily, a state-owned media outlet, which arguably makes them “state-affiliated” as well.

Unlike China Daily, the negative coverage of NPR’s own government indicates that it is largely editorially independent of the state, even if its finances are as much as 10 percent dependent on various government entities.

The designation of NPR as “state-affiliated” is therefore technically correct, though misleading because it implies a false equivalency with outlets such as China Daily and Russia Today, whose reporters’ lives would be in danger if they criticized the state on air.

Last year, NPR reported that an editor at Channel One TV, controlled by Russia, stood behind a presenter with a sign protesting the war in Ukraine. It read, “No war, stop the war; don't believe the propaganda; they're lying to you here.” The editor, Marina Ovsyannikova, was immediately arrested and subjected to a long interrogation without a lawyer.
After her release and further protests, Ovsyannikova was charged under a law that makes it illegal to call the war an “invasion.” After another release with an ankle bracelet, she escaped with her 11-year-old daughter through seven vehicle changes and evasion of multiple border patrols during an hours-long border crossing on foot.

This is quite different from NPR, though both Channel One and NPR must now carry the same “state-affiliated media” designation.

When Twitter’s press office email address was contacted for comment by various outlets about the NPR designation, it was widely reported that the office auto-replied with a poop emoji. The Epoch Times confirmed this on April 6.

While humorous and thought-provoking, Musk’s disrespect for the free press raises concerns.

Above all, his binning of NPR with Russian and Chinese state-owned media outlets is a false equivalency. He should instead consider a more nuanced approach that includes whether state affiliation is to a democracy or dictatorial regime, and what percentage of the outlet’s funding comes from the state, including advertising revenues from government sources.

Views expressed in this article are opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.
Anders Corr has a bachelor's/master's in political science from Yale University (2001) and a doctorate in government from Harvard University (2008). He is a principal at Corr Analytics Inc., publisher of the Journal of Political Risk, and has conducted extensive research in North America, Europe, and Asia. His latest books are “The Concentration of Power: Institutionalization, Hierarchy, and Hegemony” (2021) and “Great Powers, Grand Strategies: the New Game in the South China Sea" (2018).