January 2018 – Digital Single Market – Radio’s Pivotal Role against Disinformation
Radio is local, regional or, at the most, national. With the development of new technology, radio increasingly integrates new platforms / develops new offers to reach its audience: programmes are being broadcast, streamed, webcast and offered on demand – usually impervious to filter bubbles. In this convergent world, radio indeed remains the most trusted medium, as repeatedly stated by the European Commission Standard Eurobarometer Survey (latest EB86), and most recently at national level in the UK with Radiocentre “Breaking News” report published on Nov 21st, 2017. Lately, public and commercial radios have started gathering in online portals managed by the radio industry at the national level, guaranteeing listeners access to regulated radios also online: Radioplayer in the UK, Austria, Belgium, Germany, Ireland, and Norway; le Mur du Son in France; radiot.fi in Finland, etc.
What is radio? 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.
Radio connects people: it is everywhere, mobile, simple-to-use, interactive, cost-efficient and complimentary. For commercial radio, these features are all based on a very efficient model: terrestrial broadcasting of free-to-air programmes, funded (almost) 100% by advertising. 80% of EU population listens at least for 3 hours per day on average.
Radio is the most intimate medium: its character is by nature local, regional or at the utmost national – and so is its audience: listeners are interested in their local news, their local weather forecasts, their local traffic jams, the advertising of their local furniture shop, told in the local dialect of their local DJ, that they can easily contact. Listeners rely on radio as their most immediate and one of their main source for content discovery via short pieces of news. Commercial radios cannot deceive their listeners as they depend on their trust for their revenues: no listeners, no advertising.
Radio is diverse: each country has its own media and radio landscape, depending on various local factors (of historical, cultural, or political nature), but all countries in Europe have a range of stations with different owners offering a wide spectrum of content to the audience. Commercially funded radios 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. Commercially funded radio stations deliver comprehensive and varied content, from editorial and talk / debate to music formats.
More than anything, Radio remains primarily a broadcast medium: it is still unclear how transmission of radio via internet will develop. From this perspective, in most of Europe, currently and for the foreseeable future, the main viable business model for the majority of existing stations is free-to-air FM broadcasting on band II (87.5-108 MHz). There are approximately 4 to 5 broadcast radio receivers in every household in Europe. Besides, during manmade or natural disasters, radio is the first – and possibly the only remaining – tool to inform the public.
This has two crucial consequences:
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.
Radio has to comply with strict local rules: 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.
Radio should be seen as an essential tool to fight disinformation or Fake News, together with more general fact checking operations and media literacy (media understanding should be taught at school).
Contact: Vincent Sneed, AER Director Regulatory Affairs / vincent.sneed @ aereurope.org