SPEECH published on 19 Dec 2017

Noel Curran Address to Internet Governance Forum 2017

I’m delighted to be here. I think I'm going to stick to talking around media issues obviously. I have difficulty with the term fake news. I think it's just been used by so many people in so many different ways. I'm not even sure I totally understand what it refers to now. It's become so complex. I prefer those references to misinformation, disinformation. I absolutely agree that a lot of discussion around this I believe, has been exaggerated. We’ve had misinformation, disinformation, sensationistic information for a long time. What is absolutely different now is the reach. We have never in history had such a small number of companies whose platforms reach so many people. And that is a fundamental shift. I think in terms of the trust issue that arises out of some of this misinformation, disinformation, all of the categories, I think we need to remember that the public haven't lost trust in media.

We did a survey in 33 countries in connection with the Eurobarometer last year. It showed 59% trust in radio. Public service radio service has 80% trust today in quite a few countries. And for television the figure was 50%. In some countries for television it was lower and others much higher. What we found was when it came to social media platforms, the figure was 21% and falling. I think you have platforms that now have the biggest reach that are actually getting the lowest trust figures and also attracting the younger audiences. That is a huge problem for all of us, that those platforms are attracting more of the younger audiences where the trust levels are so small.

I think a second issue for all of us is consolidation. I absolutely agree with the positive things that have been spoken about digitization. I absolutely praise the pioneers and the tech companies that are leading the way in innovation and what they have done for society. But we do need to stand back and say, once again, we have never seen consolidation like this.

Last year 50% of the digital advertising revenues world-wide will have been taken by two companies. That's new. Over 60% in the U.S. So we have a consolidation of reach. We have a consolidation of revenue. The difficulty is, we can't predict because this is relatively new. Where does this go in terms of the impact on the rest of the media ecosystem? Where does it go in terms of the ability of companies, both public service and commercial to invest in content? They're still the big consistent investors. We're in a bit of experiment here. We've never seen this before. It's still relatively new. We're not standing back enough. Where are we going to be in five or ten years if this continues?

I think other issues that arise are around standards, around approach. Social media is driving a revolution in terms of how other media covers stories. We in the media need to question ourselves around this. At the very least we need to say that we are shifting our rules. We're shifting our own approach in terms of we are reporting things that even 12 months, 24 months ago we would not have reported. That's because they're widespread in social media. It's out there. You begin to see the relevance. I don't think we talk enough around how our own approach is being influenced and our own approach has been shifted in that regard.

I also think in terms of investment, It’s absolutely being affected as advertising revenue, particularly in the digital sphere. I don't just mean general investment. If you take public service media -  for me it is in a very privileged position because we receive public funding. And that puts responsibilities on us to invest in things that others don't. Without us, those things will not be invested in. I think the pressure on all companies, both public service and commercial, in terms of the consolidation of revenues, where the fragmentation of audiences is jeopardizing a lot of that content.

Remember, an awful lot of it is European content. It's original content. 87% of EBU Members' investments is in European content. 18 billion every year. That is a unique contribution to European society. I think that this is a problem. How can this be addressed?

I think there's a responsibility on everybody. Responsibility on the state, I would argue, coming from the EBU, we must ensure that there is a properly funded ecosystem and public service media is not restricted from investing in the digital world. I believe there is a responsibility on the state. I'm nervous about wide spread strong regulation on fake news as an reaction and what the wider implication is on freedom of speech. I think it has a responsibility around hate speech and a whole range of things that are effectively criminal and that those responsibilities need to be taken more seriously.

I think that we in the media have responsibility, particularly in public service media, to invest in investigative journalism. As journalism chases the 24-hour news cycle - to get it out there there’s immediate pressure, I do believe there our standards fall. I think we need to invest in training and in our journalism and in elements like investigative journalism. We need to prioritize those.

I think we're beginning to see some kind of response from the social media platforms. We've seen movement from Facebook in the last six months. Google made the announcement yesterday, I don't think it's enough but there is some movement. I think they have a lot of revenue and they could do more. But there has been some movement.

Finally, I think where we all have a responsibility is around education. It's around training, the lifelong learning experience that the state can help with, the training and educational programming, et cetera, an emphasis that broadcasters can have but also the training of our own staff, talking about the issues around quality and discussing them openly, how our own approach is changing through the influence of social media and the impact it's having. I think those are the areas we should be looking at. 


Author / Speaker

Noel Curran

Source / Event

Internet Governance Forum 2017, Geneva, Switzerland