Democracy is in decline. Citizens are turning their backs on public life. These are just two key findings from our new report into Democracy and Public Service Media (PSM). In recent months, we’ve witnessed political upheavals, threats to journalists’ safety, and increased incidences of misinformation and disinformation, all of which combine to inflate the polarized viewpoints that threaten democracies.
In these circumstances, the need for strong PSM has never been greater. Fortunately PSM is in good health. In the latest edition of our Trust in Media report, we explore the ‘trust-gap’ between traditional and online media. PSM emerges as the most trusted news brand, with citizens choosing PSM for their news in 16 out of 26 European markets. And in moments of crisis, accurate sources of information are particularly valued. As the pandemic progressed, the reach of our Members’ evening news bulletins increased 2.5 times on peak days.
Why does this matter? News media has reached levels of emancipation not seen before. Anyone can ‘report’ breaking news by uploading footage and gaining a global audience in seconds. This has also transformed how we consume news, especially the importance of eyewitness reports, but it brings with it a prevalence of misinformation and, in some cases, deliberate fake news, designed to mislead, hurt and undermine. The results can have dreadful repercussions for stable, elective democracies.
Rather than undermine the need for journalism by trained journalists, this trend confirms it. News that reflects diversity of thought and opinion, subject to rigorous editorial processes of accountability and verification, ensures accurate, trusted content that supports democratic societies.
On 28 September, the Eurovision News Exchange (EVN) marks an incredible 60th anniversary. This unique network, founded by European PSM newsrooms, operates in more than 50 countries and offers our Members around 100 edited news, radio and sports items, as well as almost 17 hours of live content every single day. It enables Members to confidently use essential eyewitness reports as news stories unfold, knowing they have been verified by our Social Newswire service. Its independent editorial processes ensure that content is trusted, safe to use and to share.
For decades, the EVN has been the distributor of the seismic moments of our times, from the epic moon landing and the fall of the Berlin Wall to 9/11 and Black Lives Matter. But it’s not just about the exchange of ‘product’. The EVN also shares exceptional news expertise from all our Members and diverse viewpoints that promotes pluralism in societies, keeps a check on polarization, and holds governments to account by examining the impact of policies, actions and decisions on the lives of European citizens.
As we mark the anniversary and nod to the past, it’s essential that all of us working in PSM prioritize the future. Organizational transformation isn’t optional. Our services must be fit for purpose in a rapidly shifting technology landscape.
In July this year, we launched ‘A European Perspective’ with 10 public service broadcasters, a digital news service that curates and shares stories from PSM across the continent. Using cutting-edge systems developed by EBU Members and the EBU Technology & Innovation department - the EuroVox open toolkit for translation and the PEACH suite of recommendation tools - stories can be translated into different languages, breaking down geographic barriers. Now more citizens can participate in world events, see how other countries are experiencing the challenges of our times, and benefit from a range of perspectives and opinions in the very best tradition of the EVN.
This new service has already made an impact. In the first two months of operation, the recommendation boxes on our Members’ websites recorded almost ten million displays and nearly 400,000 reads. By getting Europe talking, we’re ensuring a diverse spread of viewpoints to as wide an audience as possible. Anathema to polarization and authoritarian regimes.
Investment in public service news is an investment in democracy. From the beginnings of the EVN in 1961 to innovative and transformational digital news services, PSM has been promoting core news values – independence, accuracy, transparent and trusted journalism, the free flow of information and ideas. These values must be protected at all costs. Our democracies depend on it.