January 2018 – Against “Fake News”: Radio’s Pivotal Role against Disinformation
“Fake News”, i.e. the deliberate disinformation of people on the internet, especially via social media as these enable easier and wider spreading of information, has become a major problem for democratic societies. Radio is a key asset to counteract this development: it is impervious to filter bubbles, it is subject to strict journalistic standards like objectivity or truthfulness – making it Europe’s most trusted medium, and it is everywhere. Additionally, radio can transfer all these strengths to the online world, by integrating new platforms or services. Therefore, to efficiently fight “Fake News”, it is essential to support and foster radio as a medium, e.g. by regulatory incentives or dedicated funding, in order to increase radio’s robustness in the heavily changing media landscape.
In the context of the Digital Single Market strategy, the European Commission is fighting what is known as “Fake News” – i.e. the deliberate disinformation of the public, by spreading information apparently true, but in fact unobjective and biased, aiming to produce a certain spin. While deliberate disinformation is a long-known problem, it has recently become more important, as the internet, and especially social media, make it much easier to distribute false information to a wider public. Examples range from attempts to influence democratic elections, to actions seeking to influence public opinion on topics crucial to keep societies integrated (e.g. false “facts” on refugees), up to topics like homeopathy – So, what is the role of radio in this context?
What is radio? (and what it is not) Radio is a mixture of audio content which is well-edited and well-produced. Content is Free-To-Air / Free-To-Access, transmitted via wired or wireless means – such as, first and foremost, broadcast, but also cable, satellite or online – and typically consists of talk, stories, entertainment, news, music and surprises. Although radio stations do operate on-demand services, radio itself is much more than pure online services like e.g. Spotify.
Why is radio key to combat Fake News?
a. Radio is by nature impervious to filter bubbles: Most radio content is produced for one-way programming – be it listened to live or on-demand, online or offline. Listeners are therefore exposed to content they were not expecting or they had not looked for previously – as George Orwell put it “if liberty means anything at all it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear”. Radio’s content provision to listeners does NOT depend on what they have previously listened to.
b. Radio complies with strict local rules and journalistic standards: Broadcasting means that radios use public property, and can only do so in exchange of committing to certain conditions set in their licence to broadcast, including as a usual praxis delivery of information relevant at local level – which content is usually verified. Besides, in most countries, media / radio regulators seek to ensure pluralism. Commercially funded radios indeed evolve in highly competitive environments, not only with public broadcasters or community radio stations, but, first and foremost, with other privately owned and commercially funded radio stations.
c. Radio is the most trusted medium in Europe, as repeatedly stated by the European Commission Standard Eurobarometer Survey (latest EB88), and most recently at national level in the UK with Radiocentre “Breaking News” report published on Nov 21st, 2017, or in France with the Kantar media “Baromètre 2018 de la confiance des francais dans les medias”.
d. Radio is widespread and available: it is everywhere, mobile, simple-to-use, interactive, cost-efficient and complimentary, as there are 4-5 broadcast receivers per household, 80% reach in EU-population, 3 hours usage per day, and broadcast radio remains free-to-air, and the first and fastest tool to inform the public, especially in case of man-made or natural disasters.
How can radio help? Radio transfers its strengths also to the online world, by increasingly integrating new platforms or by developing new services to reach its audience. Radio is not only broadcast, but also streamed, webcast or offered on demand. Online portals of the radio industry like “Radioplayer” or similar platforms in several European countries help guaranteeing listeners access to regulated radios also online.
Radios’ environment is becoming more and more difficult. Competitors from the online world – especially from non-EU countries – enjoy economies of scale and regulatory privileges. With radio being a crucial asset in the fight against “Fake News” and deliberate disinformation, it needs to be fostered and supported, e.g. with certain regulatory incentives, or with dedicated funding. Radio should be seen as an essential tool to fight disinformation or Fake News, together with more general fact checking operations and media literacy.
Contact: Vincent Sneed, AER Director Regulatory Affairs / vincent.sneed @ aereurope.org