Global digital giants like Google, Amazon and Facebook are increasingly becoming “powerful gatekeepers” to what we watch and hear. Without greater transparency and accountability for platforms, we risk seeing core European values - such as democracy and cultural diversity – fundamentally undermined, warns the head of Europe’s alliance of public service media.
Concerted action is needed to strengthen the media sector in Europe and ensure that people can find and access “high-quality, reliable information and programming” when they turn on their television sets or go online, says Noel Curran, the Director General of the EBU.
In comments to mark the EBU’s 70th anniversary, he says that a fair and transparent platform environment is critical to enable public service broadcasters to continue to “innovate and enhance” what they offer their audiences.
“As the algorithms of Silicon Valley powerhouses become ever-more dominant curators of what European audiences consume – especially for younger viewers – we are finding it increasingly difficult to make our content visible to our audiences,” he writes.
“Public service media are investing heavily to ensure that people can see their content when they switch on their screens and are developing digital alternatives to US corporations.
“But US platforms are increasingly becoming powerful gatekeepers to what we watch, promoting their own programmes and those of their commercial partners.”
He points out how the onslaught of disinformation is eroding trust in democracy* and made the need for high-quality public service broadcasting even greater.
“Public service media is often where people turn first for trusted, accurate and impartial news about the world around them, at home and abroad,” he says. “It’s where parents feel comfortable leaving their children, safe in the knowledge that they won’t be exposed to harmful content.”
He adds: “And in an increasingly atomised world, where loneliness is reaching epidemic proportions, public service programming creates viewing moments that bring nations together and provoke national conversations, such as Blue Planet, World Cup Final football matches and the Eurovision Song Contest – a unique, collaborative and joyful event that only public services broadcasters could have created.”
Noel called on regulators to champion the European media sector and the huge contribution it makes to national democracies and cultural identity. “We have a real opportunity to ensure that bold European digital policies are put in place to strengthen the media sector for the next 70 years” he said.
The EBU represents 116 media organizations in 56 countries in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. Together they invest almost 20 billion Euros on making distinctive content that “deliver a public service rather than just chase ratings”, reaching audiences of more than one billion people around the world, and broadcasting in more than 160 languages.
*In 2018, 83% of Europeans identified online disinformation as a danger to democracy (EuroBarometer)