The European Broadcasting Union is the world’s leading alliance of Public Service Media (PSM). Their membership – that comprises 56 countries – is responsible for operating nearly 2.000 television, radio, and online channels and services and offer a wealth of content across other platforms. Together, they reach an audience of more than one billion people worldwide.
Meanwhile the COVID-19 escalates in Europe and around the world, it is largely accompanied by the circulation of both unintentional misinformation and, in some cases, malicious spreading of fake news. Under these circumstances, the need for balanced, accurate, evidence-supported and high-quality news reporting is indispensable. Therefore, the EBU and its Members are taking the lead on being the trusted source of breaking news in the coronavirus ‘infodemic’ and have been seeking to constantly promote collaboration across individual newsrooms in order to share information, facts and verification skills.
Recently, the EBU has produced a comprehensive report to provide an overview of the impact of the coronavirus when it comes to the work of PSM. The document provides an overall assessment of how its members are responding to the several challenges imposed by the crisis so far.
This report was based on the data provided by 18 of their members across Europe and was focused on broadcast and online news services – which are the core of the services provided by PSM.
EBU aimed to capture how its members had to adapt their activities to provide reliable and real time information regarding pandemic-related developments. Furthermore, the report also depicts the evolution of TV news consumption over this period, indicating the challenges faced by PSM to adjust their supply to an increasing demand.
This increase has been marked by a PSM news growth across all demographics, including young citizens – their daily view alone has increased in 20%, on average, after the outbreak.
The more dramatic the crisis becomes, the more citizens turn to PSM – both through television and online content. When it comes particularly to the performance of PSM websites, the number of unique visitors started to significantly increase in the end of February to reach a peak on March 12 with more than 21 million visitors for new content.
Putting the needs of the citizens at the center, PSM have reacted promptly to the challenges of the pandemic by modifying their programs and offers at fast speed.
PSM has been largely adapting its supply in order to, further than inform, educate and entertain, properly support its audience in times of crisis. EBU members have extended the number of news broadcasts, providing regular prime-time special broadcasts, fighting misinformation surrounding the virus, giving airtime to government declarations and press conferences.
PSM also broadcast medical advices from experts, dedicated talk shows and podcasts. In many cases, information programming is also open for audience participation, allowing citizens to address the most pressing issues during a period of uncertainty. There are multiple examples among EBU’s membership when it comes to the production of crisis-related content, notably those of ARD in Germany, BBC in the UK, DR in Denmark as well as Radio France.
More than playing a fundamental role regarding the constant dissemination of reliable and relevant information, following the closure of schools in many countries, educational content has been newly gathered or even created by a lot of PSM organizations within a very short time frame.
PSM provide support to learn from home and help kids to maintain routines. Children and educational programming hours are extended, educational content is spread throughout TV, radio, online platforms and social media. Some EBU members cooperate with education authorities or teachers’ unions to provide remote schooling material and others develop content helping parents to teach at home. Some examples in this direction are the work of ORF in Austria, RTS (“3” and “Planeta”) in Servia, RTVE in Spain.
Furthermore, PSM have been providing many entertaining options for their audiences that are deprived from most of their usual leisure activities. With this is mind, PSM programming allows the public to have access to cultural, sports, as well as religious contents. Some great examples in this direction are the Czech TV, that has created special and tailored content destined the elderly, or BBC that has announced a virtual festival of art named “Culture in Quarantine”.
Finally, PSM has been strongly contributing by fostering solidarity and supporting citizens and industries. EBU members stimulate local help across people in a community in times of confinement and quarantine. They support creatives who are severely put at risk due to shrinking incomes. PSM take over responsibility and contribute to solutions which allow society to tackle this unprecedented crisis – be it through changes in programming or other measures aimed to support those in need.