What are two things that never grow old? Rows over BBC funding and Elon Musk’s bizarre decisions about Twitter. Now the two have come together, sparking a conversation that reaches from North America to the UK.
It all started a couple of days ago when a Twitter badge appeared on the BBC Twitter page describing it as “government funded”. The BBC went furious, responding it is publicly funded through the licence fee and asking Musk to change the badge.
Musk replied all news organisations have bias, but the BBC is “one of the least biased” – a weird answer, as to try to calm the British broadcaster down. The billionaire hasn’t been shy about his mixed feelings when it comes to journalists in the past, questioning their objectivity and impartiality – especially when he doesn’t like what they publish.
In the end though, Musk capitulated. He went on to a last-minute interview with the BBC where he agreed he would change the badge. “I know the BBC is generally not thrilled about being labelled state media”, he said.
It’s not the first time mistakes have been made on Twitter badges. To mention one, when they were first introduced, the Norwegian foreign ministry was described as a “Nigeria Governmental Organisation”.
Even if Musk does backtrack and change the BBC’s Twitter badge, the row is unlikely to go away – everytime something like this happens, it gives people an excuse to fight over the BBC, its legitimacy and its purpose.
And the list of things to talk about is potentially endless: from how high the licence fee should be, to whether it’s right that not paying it is considered a crime, to whether the fact that the licence fee is set by the government indeed means the broadcaster is government funded, like the Spectator’s editor argued in an opinion piece.
But according to Twitter’s Help Centre, being government funded means the government exercises at least partial control over the editorial content – which is exactly the claim the BBC has been fighting since it was created. Accused of being left-leaning by the right, and Conservatives-friendly by the left, the broadcaster might have won its fight with Musk – but unfortunately will always have others to fight on the way.