Public Service Media Takes Big Hit in Time of Coronavirus

A report by the European Broadcasting Union finds the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated change in public service media that fundamentally affects the quality of journalism in both positive and negative ways.Head of News at EBU, Liz Corbin, says the pandemic hit the fast forward button on changes, which already were in progress.The coronavirus made people desperate for good quality information, according to the report, which was based on interviews with 20 news leaders across Europe. Audiences turned in huge numbers to public service journalism providers. And, in this viral age where the spread of fake news is perhaps the only thing keeping pace with COVID, there has been innovation and creativity.   At the beginning of the pandemic, the report finds people’s trust in public service media and in government was high. During this period, it says the government was supportive of the role the media were playing in distributing vital information. However, when newsrooms became more critical of governments’ response to COVID-19, the relationship between the two institutions began to sour. Co-author of the report, Maike Olij, says attacks by some governments and politicians against the credibility of the media have led to an erosion in public trust of newsmakers. She says threats to media freedoms and attacks targeting public service journalism have increased. The longer these insecurities and the pandemic last, the more suspicious and fearful people become, the EBU reports, adding that people now doubt all official voices, as well as public service news. The report recommends that public service media provide trustworthy, reliable information and that online journalism tailors its reporting to audience needs. It says addressing fake news and being more attentive to undercurrents in society are key in polarized times, and stresses the importance of critical journalism, even when sharing official messages. The EBU report, “Fast Forward: Public Service Journalism in the Viral Age,” is being launched on the eve of a two-day World Press Freedom Conference co-sponsored by UNESCO and the Netherlands.

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