The economic crisis triggered by the pandemic (over 600,000 people have died in the South American country) has brought many broadcasters to their knees, and they have asked to reduce their transmission power in order to cut operating costs. So the Ministry of Communications has allowed radio and TV broadcasters to reduce their authorised watts by up to 30% for six months, at times when the audience is less busy. The president of the Brazilian Association of Broadcasters (Abert), Flávio Lara Resende, was satisfied and said ‘by accepting the sector’s request, the Mcom is showing itself sensitive to the moment of a financial crisis that the private sector is going through, driven by the coronavirus pandemic‘.
The economic crisis caused by the pandemic is having an impact on broadcasters’ turnover, which according to the InfoAdex study on advertising investment in Spain in 2020 will drop by 22.9% for all stations. This is a total of 111.5 million euros that will be lost and which will impact mainly on the large commercial networks such as Cadena Ser and Cope (which have lost 25.4 and 24.4% respectively). Broadcasters consider intervening again in the contracts of the big stars (including Pepa Bueno and Carlos Herrera), cutting them for the second consecutive year and probably until the end of 2021. And the situation shows no sign of improving, as the January 2021 InfoAdex figures put the decline at 26.7%.
More details on the smaller radio stations in the article by the independent newspaper El Español.
Schools started distance learning in Mexico, one of the countries that has been hardest hit by the pandemic (in fourth place for the number of contagions). Since August 24th, 2020, 30 million pupils are able to follow programmes on air from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on 16 channels transmitted by four TV broadcasters: Televisa, TV Azteca, Grupo Imagen and Grupo Multimedios. All those who do not have access to television will be able to follow the lessons on the radio and study from books. Over 4,550 TV programmes (640 in indigenous languages) will be transmitted. The programmes do not include entertainment , but follow the school syllabus and pupils will be tested on the contents. Educational programmes do not have advertising. Here is the article with details from the daily newspaper, El Universal.
Even in full crisis the radio stations are busy on all fronts with increasing information slots, adapting programme schedules to the changing needs of the listeners and … even fund raising.
Here are some examples:
The national radio networks, Radio Italia (Cologno Monzese), the public TV and radio broadcasters Raiuno, RaiPlay (a streaming platform) and Rai Radio2 joined forces on a project called ‘Music that Unites’. The event included brief information interludes and previously unpublished live sets where the performers recorded from their own homes creating non-stop music to share. Funds raised came to more than € 7.5 million to be donated to the National Civil Protection Organisation (a government body that deals with the management of emergencies).
‘A helping hand for the Civil Protection Organisation’ was organised by Gruppo Klasse Uno in Castelfranco Veneto, a province of Treviso (seven local and regional radio stations took part : Birikina, Bella & Monella, Radio Marilù, Radio Piterpan, Radio Sorriso, Radio Gelosa, and Vibra FM)
Help for other nationwide organisations
Discoradio in Milan (broadcaster covering Lombardy and Piedmont) and the Buzzi Foundation, that manages a research centre and children’s hospital, are raising funds to increase the number of beds in the intensive care unit.
Radio NumberOne (Bergamo) has taken part in #SostieniAMOBergamo and given their support to the Fondazione Della Comunità Bergamasca.
Radio Barbagia in Nuoro, Sardinia, has donated thousands of face masks to the city hospital with the help of their listeners.
Three Roman radio stations in the RDS group (Dimensione Suono Roma, Dimensione Suono Soft and Ram Power) have supported the capital’s hospital, Policlinico Gemelli, to create the Columbus Covid-2 Hospital by transforming an existing building into a hospital with 80 beds and another 59 beds in the intensive care unit.
The crisis funds to support local radio and TV stations are ‘totally inadequate’. This is how the associations representing broadcasters have branded the funds allocated for the sector in the draft copy of the ‘ Revival Decree’, which the Government is preparing in order to shore up the Italian economy which has been weakened by the pandemic. The Italian Publishers Association reaffirmed in a brief press release that ‘while undergoing a drastic reduction in revenues (often up to 80%) radio and TV stations have continually carried out the role of public interest nationwide’. Aeranti-Corallo, Confindustria Radio Televisioni and Associazione Alpi are therefore asking for ‘an adequate allocation of funds’. This is because the sector is ‘strategic in order to restart the economy, which is based on small and medium-sized companies that produce 58% of the turnover of industry in Italy’. The 40 million euros planned in the Cura Italia Decree (March 16th, 2020) were cancelled at the last moment.
The complaints have had an effect. According to the latest draft of the decree (May 19th, 2020) which has not been published yet, the funds have apparently returned to € 40 million. We will update you shortly.
In previous articles we spoke about the collapse in advertising, the request made by Aeranti-Corallo for funds of 130 million euros and the allocations of funds made by other governments from Spain to the United States.
In order to give more information to the public during the Coronavirus pandemic, Ofcom, the UK’s independent communications regulator, has approved the opening of some new temporary radio stations. Licences have been awarded in areas that are not already served by community radio stations on the condition that arrangements have been made with local community leaders. In support of this venture, the Community Media Association, the organisation for British community broadcasting, has contacted the societies that manage music royalties to organise favourable conditions. PRS for Music is asking only £ 86 a month plus 20% VAT for 12 weeks.
Funding programme for entertaining those at home
The Audio Content Fund, a government funded scheme that finances original public radio, has allocated £ 200,000 (later increased to £ 400,000) to ideas, targeting listeners in lockdown during the pandemic. Among the approved projects, there is a 15-minute transmission made by people over their 70s for an audience over their 70s, and a ‘virtual’ version of Strawberry Fair in Cambridge, a music and arts festival that attracts up to 50,000 people to East Anglia.
Julian Clover, Editorial Lead, Cambridge 105 Radio said: ‘Strawberry Fair is one of the highlights of the year for our city and is one of our most popular outside broadcasts. While we won’t be able to make it to Midsummer Common we hope that our Virtual Strawberry Fair is able to give a taste of summer to Cambridge 105 Radio listeners.’
Four radio stations covering the festival
In addition to Cambridge 105 Radio (105.0 MHz), parts of the coverage will be heard on neighbouring stations: Star Radio (Star broadcasts on 107.9FM in Cambridge, 107.1FM across Ely and the Fens and now on 107.3FM in Saffron Walden), HCR104fm (Huntingdon Community Radio) and Future Radio (107.8FM from Norwich).
A great deal of fake news circulated at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, but now media and regulators seek to firmly counteract it.
Alongside the battle against the Coronavirus, another front has opened up to counteract fake news. It was realised early on how much damage misinformation could cause by favouring the spread of the pandemic, so much that the media started increasing checks to counteract it more firmly. We can see what happened in China where strict Chinese censorship created a void of information which led other countries to underestimate the problem (today experts are even questioning the official number of deaths in China). And when the number of cases in Europe began to multiply, fear and a thirst for news favoured the spread of media hoaxes. These were generally limited to the social networks and chats but there were also programmes put on air that gave credit to odd theses and thus reinforced their credibility. This caused some people to really go around burning 5G telephone repeaters, accusing them of having created the epidemic. This resulted in the necessity for the British Government to intervene. In addition, President Trump’s press conferences could have also created confusion and misinformation when he tried to minimise the impact of the pandemic.
KUOW-FM no longer broadcasts Trump live
Even playing down the risks of Covid-19, as the Americans have tried, can cause damage and open up immense prairies to the virus. In April 2020 they can boast of winning the sad prize of being the first in the world for the number of cases. Since March 25th, 2020, a national public radio station in Seattle has suspended all live press conferences of President Trump. It was not a political policy, the KUOW editorial board clarified, but deontological and will be reconsidered from day to day. After the first two weeks they realised that the statements being issued needed to be verified first (an arduous task with the time limitations of live broadcasting) to avoid spreading false or misleading information. Among examples cited is the statement issued on March 19th, 2020: ‘Nobody knew there’d be a pandemic or epidemic of this proportion’ despite warnings given by the secret services at the beginning of the year. Then on March 20th, 2020 ‘You’re seeing very few empty shelves,’ while on television one could plainly see that the shops had run out of basic necessities including hand soap.
KUOW-FM, owned by the University of Washington, is operated by a non-profit community organisation. They transmit in Seattle on 94.9 fm with 100kW, power that enables them to cover a wide area, as you can see on the FMScan map above. It is a member station of NPR (National Public Radio) that has about a thousand non-profit transmitters.
British radio station forced to rectify
Ofcom, the UKs communications regulator, has imposed a sanction on Uckfield FM for having breached the Broadcasting Code. The community radio station that transmits on 105.0 MHz from Uckfield, a town 80 km south of London in East Sussex, on February 28th, 2020, had broadcast potentially damaging and misleading information by linking the explosion of the epidemic in Wuhan to the launch of 5G technology, one of the pieces of fake news going around the globe. It is a sensitive geopolitical topic (the UK has started launching 5G in Britain and hence ‘are betraying’ their American ally), but if people start believing the hoax, trouble will follow. At the end of March several vandals destroyed repeaters in Birmingham, Liverpool, Melling and Belfast with the shouts of ‘f**k 5G’.
The PDF of Ofcom’s decisions can be viewed here or downloaded below.
Italy is studying the phenomena and sets up fake news unit
On March 31st, 2020, RAI appointed Antonio Di Bella, the director of RaiNews, to lead a new unit to enable the public broadcasting service to avoid spreading misleading or fake news. A scientific committee will be set up to check the deluge of information that arrives for the editorial staff. Di Bella will be assisted by Gerardo D’Amico, in charge of scientific information at Rai News 24. One episode a week of the programme, Tutta Salute, will be dedicated to the fake news that is circulating about Coronavirus.
Agcom, the Authority for Communications Guarantees, has increased its usual monthly monitoring of the media by producing a special report on Coronavirus. Apart from online sources, they have also studied the amount of time dedicated to news about the pandemic on radio and television networks. You can find details of the research about national radio stations here. In order to counteract misinformation, the authority is involving research centres and academic institutions to set up teams to carry out advanced studies into the phenomena.