PSB still most trusted source of media

Appointed as director general of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) in March last year, Noel Curran explains why public service broadcast can thrive in the face of increasing challenges

By Noel Curran

It would be all too easy to paint a gloomy picture for public service broadcasting in 2018. It is certainly facing an unprecedented number of challenges on a wide range of fronts, from financial constraints to political pressure. Here in Switzerland, we face the very real prospect of becoming the first European country without a public service broadcaster with a referendum on the future of the licence fee in March.

Our latest research reveals a 2.8% real-time drop in funding for public service media over the past four years. At the same time, our members are having to deliver more with less, producing content in new formats on new platforms to reach all audiences. These same platforms are now becoming prime producers and aggregators of content, pricing many public service organisations out of the best content, from drama to sports.

Faced with such a prospect, one might think the future is bleak for public service media. However, I am optimistic that more and more people are now realising the value of strong, well-funded public service media. TV, and particularly radio, are still the most trusted forms of media and, where there is robust public service media, people tend to trust the media as a whole more.

In a world where trust in media, and traditional institutions as a whole, is at an all-time low, I think that is something we should all be very proud of.

There is much we can do if we work with, rather than compete against, the wider industry. Mark Zuckerberg’s New Year Resolution is to ‘fix’ Facebook. He is very aware of the damage done to the brand by their failure to curb fake news and control harmful content. Indeed 63% of respondents to the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer said they did not know how to tell good journalism from rumour or falsehoods, or if a piece of news was produced by a respected media organisation.

That provides public service media with a real opportunity. Social media giants, like Facebook, need reliable content and they need to rebuild credibility and trust — while we need to make sure we are reaching digital natives and are also able to monetise our content on social.

This year, we will be working to deepen our connections with the big social media players and engage in direct discussions to ensure that common challenges and the issues of our members are brought collectively to the table.

Alongside that, I will be participating in the European Commission’s High Level Group on fake news, misinformation and disinformation, sitting down with policy-makers, Internet companies, broadcasters and others to ensure that the Commission fully comprehend the role public service media can play in countering the phenomena and promote a more balanced relationship with online platforms and social networks.

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