YouTube to start labeling videos posted by state-funded media

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YouTube will now add a label to videos that come from state-funded media outlets, the Google-owned company announced on Friday.

A notice will appear under the videos for any outlets that received some level of government or public funding. It will also include a link to the Wikipedia article about that broadcaster for viewers to glean more information about the news source.

"News is an important and growing vertical for us and we want to be sure to get it right, helping to grow news and support news publishers on YouTube in a responsible way," Geoff Samek, senior product manager for YouTube News wrote in a blog post published on Friday. "This work follows a series of changes we made throughout 2017 to better surface authoritative news content."

Company spokespeople said some labels will appear as soon as Friday, but added that the initiative is still new and developing.

In an example on the YouTube blog, a video from Radio Free Asia -- which is funded by the US' agency, the Broadcasting Board of Governors -- includes a note with an information symbol under the video but right above the title. "RFA is funded in whole or in part by the American government," it states.

Other outlets affected include PBS and the Russian-funded network, RT.

Spokespeople for YouTube said they consulted with third-party groups to draw up the list of outlets that will receive the label. It's not clear yet whether videos from certain shows such as Sesame Street, which airs on PBS, will also be labeled on YouTube.

The spokespeople also defended its decision to direct users to Wikipedia articles about the various broadcasters. Though Wikipedia articles can be edited by anyone, the spokespeople said they trust Wikipedia's editors to present an aggregate of information about the various outlets and their funding.

YouTube, along with other internet and social media companies, have faced increasing criticism over the past year for how they selectively filter content that comes from questionable sources, and those that promote propaganda or conspiracy theories.

A spokesperson for PBS pushed back YouTube's latest move, saying labeling "PBS a 'publicly funded broadcaster' is both vague and misleading."

"PBS receives a small percentage of its funding from the federal government; the majority of funding comes from private donations," the spokesperson said. "More importantly, PBS is an independent, private, not-for-profit corporation, not a state broadcaster. YouTube's proposed labeling could wrongly imply that the government has influence over PBS content, which is prohibited by statute. If YouTube's intent is to create clarity and better understanding, this is a step in the wrong direction. We are in ongoing discussions with YouTube on this issue, but we have yet to reach a satisfactory solution."

For RT, which has 2.2 million subscribers on its YouTube channel, the label is the latest in a series of obstacles the network faces in the United States as concerns grow over Russia's meddling in American politics.

In November, the Department of Justice forced RT to register as a foreign agent after the broadcaster was singled out in a intelligence community report issued early last year about Russia's attempts to influence the 2016 US election.

RT furiously protested DOJ's decision and in retaliation, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed amendments into law, passed by the Russian parliament in November, that will list foreign media outlets in Russia as "foreign agents," which could open foreign media outlets up to harsh audits and possible closure. Russian officials also sent letters to news organizations in Russia that are backed by the US government, warning them of possible "restrictions."

RT did not immediately respond to CNN's request for comment.

Part of Russia's new restrictions might include labeling content from American government-funded outlets like Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty and Current Time television as coming from a "foreign agent."

Nasserie Carew, communications director for the Broadcasting Board of Governors -- which oversees American government-funded outlets abroad like Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, Radio Free Asia and Current Time -- said the BBG disagreed with the new policy and noted that the agency's "legislative firewall prohibits interference by U.S. government officials in the objective, independent reporting of news."

"If YouTube's goal is to help the consumer identify 'authoritative news content', this policy falls short. It is deeply misleading, factually inaccurate, and irresponsible to lump BBG networks and propaganda outlets including those funded by China and Russia under one broad label," Carew said. "We hope to work with YouTube to draw a sharp distinction between the two."


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