Disinformation about Covid-19 goes unchecked on radio and podcasts

In a recent episode of his podcast, Rick Wiles, a self-proclaimed pastor and “citizen journalist,” endorsed a conspiracy theory: in the ...


In a recent episode of his podcast, Rick Wiles, a self-proclaimed pastor and “citizen journalist,” endorsed a conspiracy theory: in the history of mankind.

“It’s an egg that hatches into a synthetic parasite and grows inside your body,” Mr. Wiles said on his Oct. 13 episode. “It’s like a sci-fi nightmare, and it’s happening in front of us.”

Mr Wiles belongs to a group of hosts who have made false or misleading claims about Covid-19 and the effective treatments for it. Like many of them, he has access to a large portion of his audience because his show appears on a platform provided by a major media company.

Mr. Wiles’ podcast is available via IHeart Media, a San Antonio-based audio company that says it reaches nine out of 10 Americans every month. Spotify and Apple are other big companies that provide important audio platforms to hosts who have shared similar views with their listeners on Covid-19 and vaccination efforts, or have had guests on their shows who have promoted such notions.

Scientific studies have shown that vaccines protect people from coronavirus for long periods of time and have significantly reduced the spread of Covid-19. While the death toll worldwide linked to Covid-19 exceeds five million – and at a time when more than 40 percent of Americans are not fully vaccinated – iHeart, Spotify, Apple and many smaller audio companies haven’t done much to curb what radio hosts and podcasters are saying about the virus and vaccination efforts.

“There’s really no hindrance to it,” said Jason Loviglio, associate professor of media and communication studies at the University of Maryland in Baltimore County. “There is no real push back mechanism other than boycotting advertisers and business executives saying we need a culture change.”

Executives in the audio industry seem less likely than their social media counterparts to try to verify dangerous speeches. TruNews, a conservative Christian media outlet founded by Mr. Wiles, which used the phrase “Jewish coup” to describe efforts to impeach former President Donald J. Trump, has been banned by YouTube. His podcast remains available on iHeart.

Asked about his false claims regarding Covid-19 vaccines, Mr Wiles called the pandemic mitigation efforts “global communism.” “If the Needle Nazis win, freedom is over for generations, maybe forever,” he said in an email.

The reach of radio shows and podcasts is great, especially among young people: A recent survey by the National Research Group, a consultancy firm, found that 60% of listeners under 40 get their information mainly through audio, a type of media they say they trust more than print or video.

“People develop a very close relationship with podcasts,” said Evelyn Douek, senior researcher at the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University. “It’s parasocial media. There is something about the voice that humans really relate to.

Marc Bernier, a talk radio host in Daytona Beach, Florida, whose show is available for download or stream on iHeart and Apple’s digital platforms, was among the talk radio hosts who died of complications from Covid -19 after expressing anti-vaccination views on their programs. The deaths made national news and triggered a cascade of comments on social networks. What has garnered less attention is the industry that has helped give them an audience.

In a June episode, Bernier said, after referring to unvaccinated people: “I’m one of them. Judge me if you want. The following month he cited a unfounded complaint this “45,000 people died after receiving the vaccine. In his last Twitter post on July 30, Bernier accused the government of “acting like Nazis” for promoting vaccines against Covid-19.

Jimmy DeYoung Sr., whose program was available on iHeart, Apple and Spotify, has died of complications from Covid-19 after making his show a place of false or misleading vaccine claims. One of his frequent guests was Sam Rohrer, a former Pennsylvania state official who compared the promotion of Covid-19 vaccines to Nazi tactics and made a drastic misrepresentation. “It’s not a vaccine, by definition,” Rohrer said during an April episode. “It’s a permanent alteration in my immune system, which God created to handle the kinds of things that happen that way.” Mr. DeYoung thanked his guest for his “insight”. Mr. DeYoung died four months later.

Buck Sexton, the host of a program syndicated by Premiere Networks, a subsidiary of iHeart, recently launched the theory that mass vaccinations against Covid-19 could accelerate the mutation of the virus into more dangerous strains. He made this suggestion while appearing on another Premiere Networks show, “The Jesse Kelly Show”.

The theory appears to have its roots in a 2015 article on vaccines against a disease in chickens called Marek’s disease. Its author, Andrew Read, professor of biology and entomology at Penn State University, said his research has been “misinterpreted” by anti-vaccine activists. He added that the Covid-19 vaccines significantly reduced transmission, while chickens inoculated with Marek’s disease vaccine were still able to transmit the disease. Mr. Sexton did not respond to a request for comment.

“We see a lot of public radio stations doing incredible local work to spread good health information,” said Loviglio, the media professor. “On the other side, you mainly see the AM radio dial and their podcast counterparts being the Wild West of the airwaves.”

iHeart – which owns over 860 radio stations, publishes more than 600 podcasts and operates a large online archive of audio programs – a rules for podcasters on his platform prohibiting them from making statements inciting hatred, promoting Nazi propaganda or defamatory. He wouldn’t say if he has a policy regarding false claims about Covid-19 or vaccination efforts.

Apples content guidelines for podcasts prohibit “content that may lead to harmful or dangerous results, or obscene or free content”. Apple did not respond to requests for comment for this article.

Spotify, which says its podcast platform has 299 million monthly listeners, prohibited hate speech in its guidelines. In response to inquiries, the company said in a written statement that it also banned content “that promotes dangerous false or misleading dangerous content on Covid-19, which can cause harm offline and / or constitute a direct threat to public health “. The company added that it had removed content that violated its policies. But the episode with Mr. DeYoung’s conversation with Mr. Rohrer was always available via Spotify.

Dawn Ostroff, head of content and advertising at Spotify, said in a conference last month, the company took “very aggressive steps” to invest more in content moderation. “There is a difference between the content that we create and the content that we license and the content that is on the platform,” she said, “but our policies are the same regardless of the type of content on our platform. We will not allow any content that infringes or is inaccurate in any way. “

The audio industry hasn’t come under the same scrutiny as the big social media companies, whose executives were interviewed in congressional hearings on the role of platforms in disseminating false or misleading information.

Social media giants have made efforts over the past year to stop the flow of false reports related to the pandemic. In September, Youtube said he was banning the accounts of several prominent anti-vaccine activists. It also removes or mitigates content that it deems to be or close to disinformation. At the end of last year, Twitter has announced that it will remove posts and advertisements containing false claims about the coronavirus vaccines. Facebook followed suit in February, saying it would remove false claims about vaccines in general.

Sylvia Chan-Olmsted, professor of media at the University of Florida, said podcasts may be more effective at spreading false information than social media. “People who go to podcasts have a lot more active engagement,” she said. “It’s not like, ‘Oh, I went on Facebook and I scrolled down and saw this misinformation.’ You are more likely to be engaged, interested in this host, actively researching this person, and listening to what they have to say.

Audio media has become more popular during the pandemic, according to iHeart chief executive Robert W. Pittman, former director of MTV and AOL. At a recent media industry conference, he noted a change in viewing habits over the past 20 months:. There are two: the radio and now there is podcasting. “

The Federal Communications Commission, which licenses companies using the public airwaves, controls radio operators, but not podcasts or online audio, which do not use public airwaves.

The FCC is prohibited from violating the right to free speech of US citizens. When he takes action against a media company for programming, it’s usually in response to complaints about content deemed obscene or indecent, such as when he fined a Virginia TV station in 2015. for a newscast that included a segment on a pornographic movie star.

In a statement, an FCC spokesperson said the agency “examines all complaints and determines what can lead to prosecution under the Constitution and the law.” He added that the primary responsibility for what happens on the air rests with radio station owners, saying “broadcast licensees have a duty to act in the public interest.”

The world of talk radio and podcasting is huge, and anti-vaccine sentiment is only a small part of it. IHeart Offers a series of educational podcasts on Covid-19 vaccines, and Spotify created a hub for podcasts on Covid-19 news organizations, including ABC and Bloomberg.

There has been at least one turnaround among hosts who were once skeptical about the pandemic and efforts to counter it. Bill Cunningham, who has a radio show in Cincinnati that is syndicated by iHeart’s Premiere Networks and available on Apple, spent the early part of the pandemic claiming Covid-19 was over-hyped. He revised his point of view on air this year, describing her decision to get the vaccine and encouraging her listeners to do the same.

Recently, he expressed his impatience to receive a recall and mentioned that he had taken on a new nickname: “The Vaxxinator”.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Disinformation about Covid-19 goes unchecked on radio and podcasts
Disinformation about Covid-19 goes unchecked on radio and podcasts
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