The following is an interview with the Director General of the European Broadcasting Union ( ebu ) on the importance of good journalism in a time of crisis. Curran expresses gratitude to Pope Francis for having underlined the role of journalists reporting on the ground in Ukraine, even risking their lives.
“In war, information is everything. And serious disinformation can threaten lives”. This is what ebu (European Broadcasting Association) is strongly emphasizing in these difficult months in Europe. ebu is the world’s leading alliance of public service media with 115 member organizations in 56 countries and an additional 31 associates worldwide. Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, ebu has been committed to supporting journalists who report on the horror of war on the ground. In this interview with Vatican Radio, realized at the ebu headquarters in Geneva, the director general of the organization, Noel Curran, focuses on the need for accurate and credible journalism, especially in crisis situations such as the pandemic or this terrible war in the heart of Europe.
During the Covid pandemic, the public service media have been playing a very important role. What would you say with respect to their role in this terrible war in Ukraine, in the heart of Europe?
I think that public service media have played a vital role in terms of informing the public about the war in Ukraine. So much of our output is news, particularly on radio. I think we’ve been at the forefront in terms of reporting on the war and reporting on how it has impacted the Ukrainian people. I think with radio stations like Vatican Radio that coverage has gone worldwide, with other stations it’s been national, and there’s also been a lot of regional radio coverage. We’ve also provided quality trusted news, which is why public service media is so trusted. We’ve also supported our members, the public service media broadcasters in Ukraine with satellites dishes, phones, equipment. Public service media have also supported the Ukrainian people. Over half billion Euros has so far been raised through initiatives — concerts, fundraising — from public service media. A huge range of different events have been organized by public service media. As director general of ebu I’m very proud of how public service media have responded to this terrible war.
ebu is committed to supporting correct and accurate information, particularly in this difficult situation in Ukraine. Is there any initiative in this regard that you’d like to share with us?
I think the most important thing that ebu and public service media provide is quality trusted news, investment in training of journalists, investment in sending journalists to war zones. There are other initiatives that ebu is involved in. We’re involved in what is called “Journalism Trust Initiative” with partners like Reporters Without Borders and a range of other organizations which is all about verifying that organizations are providing trusted news and trusted coverage. We’re part of what is also known as the tni initiative, Trusted News Initiative, which the bbc are involved in as well. We invest heavily as public service media in fact checking. We have a new initiative on freedom of speech from the ebu . We also have a lot of initiatives on training on safety of journalists particularly journalists working in war zones. We approach this from a wide variety of areas, and it is something that we’re very conscious of and very involved in.
Pope Francis expressed his gratitude to the journalists who risk their lives to report every day on the horror of war, of every war, not only this one unleashed by Russia against Ukraine. How much awareness is in European public opinion about the value of reporting on the ground, in war zones?
I think it was very important that world figures like Pope Francis have highlighted the issue of journalists. Everyone is very grateful when they see that. I think the public are aware because we see that they turn to public service media in such big numbers, we see that the trust figures they have for public service media are much higher than for commercial media and way higher than for social media. So I think that the public are aware. Do they know just how difficult it is on a day to day basis? Do they know the kinds of difficulties that organizations have even in getting reporters in to the war zones? Probably not. They probably don’t know the full extent of that. I’m not sure the public needs to know that. That’s our job. It’s the job of journalists to do that and report but I do think that the public realize the value of what public service media is doing in these terrible war zones. I do believe they realize that.
As in the pandemic, this war in Ukraine also underlined the relevance of radio as a credible and reliable media while social networks are often vehicles for fake news and counterfeits…
Radio is the most trusted source of media on information. All of our research shows that. It’s most trusted by the public than TV. It is so much more trusted than social media. I think the connection between radio and the audience is absolutely unique. Thinking of the role of radio, as I’ve said Vatican Radio has a worldwide role, but we shouldn’t forget the national role of radio and also the regional role. Apart from news on counterfeits which is core, radio also allows the public speech much more than television and certainly more than social media platforms in so many ways. You hear public voices, you hear public experiences, public reflections and personal stories. And I think radio is also critical at times of crisis in terms of giving the public access to public information and we saw that during the Covid pandemic but we’re also seeing it in any crises that arise. I think radio has a unique role, it has a unique relationship with the public and long may that continue because public service radio has worked hard to earn that.
By Alessandro Gisotti