Independent Radio shines during pandemic – but structured supports required to protect and develop the sector.
Report finds radio played a key role in fighting misinformation and supporting communities during Covid.
Throughout the Covid-19 Pandemic, radio became a welcome refuge for the Irish population during tough and uncertain times with 3 in 4 Irish adults tuning into radio. Despite the challenges of broadcasting from presenters' homes, production teams working remotely from each other and ad revenues plummeting, the sector showed its true resilience to deliver the highest quality content to listeners.
A new report published today (Dublin, May 5th 2022) reveals that Ireland’s Independent Radio Sector needs sustained funding streams if it is to continue thriving post the pandemic and into the future. “The Impact of Covid 19 on Ireland's Independent Radio Sector '' was published by the industry training body, Learning Waves and undertaken by DCU’s Fujo Institute.
Speaking at the launch today, Teresa Hanratty, Project Manager of Learning Waves said: “The findings from the Learning Waves report highlighted the significant role radio played in people’s lives during the pandemic, radio was seen as a trusted and reliable source of information to national, regional and local audiences.
“While listenership grew across the sector, the significant economic challenges faced by the sector cannot be underestimated. In addition to this, the pandemic has impacted on the well-being of staff across the sector, particularly, frontline journalists.”
The report was commissioned to measure the impact the pandemic has had on the sector and what needs to happen next. Launched today at the annual Learning Waves AGM at the Aviva Stadium, Dr Colm Kearns from the Fujo Institute presented his findings to those gathered from the Independent radio sector.
The report revealed that station management considered trusted information about the pandemic to be a key strength of independent radio as 85% asserted that this was one of the main reasons why listeners tuned into their station. Almost 100% of stations surveyed said they made it their responsibility to combat the spread of misinformation and educate the public by sourcing credible and qualified contributors and challenging contrary views.
Sustained funding, clearer communication from policy-makers, and staff upskill support were among the key suggestions highlighted in the report. The report also revealed that ‘mental-health concerns’, job security and fighting the spread of disinformation were the leading challenges faced by radio staff.
Author of the report DCU Fujo Institute's Dr Colm Kearns added “Future financial supports in light of the impact of the pandemic must make due allowance of the diversity of what constitutes Public Service Media, rather than labouring under a ‘one size fits all’ approach which makes little distinction between the resources and priorities of a local radio station and those of a nationwide broadcaster."
Key findings from the report were:
● Supports for independent radio, while remaining rigorous in their application process, must take account of the vastly varied resources of the stations that make up the sector.
● Reliance on ad hoc schemes, such as Sound and Vision, creates uncertainty. At the same time, funding schemes should be broadened and ring-fenced/sector specific to include a wider range of content including news and current affairs.
● The state cannot combat the 'infodemic' of misinformation and mistrust alone. Independent radio can play an active role in this effort, but they cannot effectively play this role while considered purely commercial entities.
● Innovation is required to reassess the long-term business models of Irish media at national, local, and community levels, and this will come through cross-pollination of perspectives and insights.
● Independent radio staff clearly rose to the challenges of the pandemic with energy and creativity. However, there is a need to build on this by supporting the structures which equip staff with the abilities to adapt to the ongoing upheavals in wider media.
● Learning Waves is well-placed to play a key role in building capacity in the sector to combat misinformation and address digital innovations, but needs support and recognition to do so. Sustainable funding for the provision of training and development opportunities across the media sector is needed.