Diversity in public service media during Covid-19


Funded by the BAI’s Media Research Funding Scheme, FuJo is investigating the diversity of RTÉ’s Covid-19 coverage. The research – conducted by Eileen Culloty, Colm Kearns and Jane Suiter – will assess the diversity of topics and voices across a selection of radio and television programming. In line with the commitments outlined in RTÉ’s Diversity and Inclusion charter, the project will focus specifically on four key aspects of diversity: gender, ethnicity, disability, and sexuality. To contextualise these findings, the project will also examine the role of public service media during the pandemic and the challenges Covid-19 has created for the broadcaster.

Covid-19 emerged at a critical time for public service media. In recent years, many have questioned whether the public service model is relevant in an age of ubiquitous and seemingly free online content. Most notably, the UK government has threatened to withdraw licence-fee funding for the BBC. Last December, the Irish Government announced a new Commission on the Future of Irish Public Service Broadcasting, which will develop proposals on how to deliver the goals of public service media in Ireland over the next ten years.

However, the pandemic appears to have reinforced the relevance of public service media as Europeans have turned to public media in record numbers since the pandemic began. Moreover, the vital role of reliable information provision has become more acute amid the online “infodemic” of false information about the virus. The importance of credible news media has been underscored by the European Commission and the UN with the latter noting that the public needs “accurate information about the nature of the threats and the means to protect oneself, one’s family, and one’s community.”

Apart from information provision, social distancing measures have created a new set of public needs as social gatherings are prohibited, formal education suspended, and the population at large are either at home or working on the frontlines. Moreover, these needs are experienced differently across social groups and segments of the population.

Broadcasters across Europe are responding to the crisis with new and revised programming. For example, some countries, including Ireland, have devised new programming to provide educational support for home schooling and live programming formats have been revised. However, the pandemic presents a huge challenge to the delivery of public service media as social distancing measures disrupt staffing, scheduling, and business continuity and place additional strain on technological capacities and resources.

It is in this context that the project will investigate issues of diversity. Findings will be published in Spring 2021.