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.
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.
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.
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.