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Public service broadcasters... for delivering the facts: The Drum editorial team’s best of 2020

This year, the role of PSBs came to the fore

It’s that time again, when we look back at the agencies, the brands, the organizations, movements and trends that have shaped the past year. In 2020 – a year so many of us would like to forget – our industry of problem solvers proved time and again that they have what it takes to muck in, help out, ask questions, shape cultures and change the world. It is them that we celebrate in our New Year Honors.

It proved difficult to pick out the best media brand in 2020. We knew we wanted a public service broadcaster (PSB) for their services to public health, but we couldn’t pick one out. And then we realized we didn’t have to. You can choose your own.

Quality information and public health come before brand, true, but the sites that showed the most utility will build lasting relationships.

This year, the role of PSBs came to the fore. Per watchdog Ofcom in the UK, they’ve to “deliver impartial and trusted news… and distinctive content”. And didn’t we need it?

News consumption was hugely up. Most titles saw record traffic. The report says 99% of people accessed a news source for Covid-19 information. More people than ever used the product. Some hit harmful spin, misinformation, or opinion, or a paywall that they’d have no means of navigating. For all of us, the PSBs cut through the confusion to deliver the facts.

And remember, we had to fight over the facts. A president suggested bleach-drinking and governments pursued herd immunity when we knew it wouldn’t work. Said governments leaked huge policy changes on Twitter. There were the conspiracy theories too that needed debunking. People locked up in their homes in adverse circumstances were clinging to theories about corruption and disasters to try and contextualize the very real corruption and disasters happening in the world. 5G masts were burned. And there were protests. Some more just than others.

To simply go about their business and survive, people needed good, reliable, trustworthy information. And no news medium is more trusted than broadcast news. They were sucking up more share of news consumption from social media – which, we must admit, has helped inflame some of the issues we currently face.

Being unfair and picking out only a few very UK-centric examples of PSB excellence is Channel 4’s bums on seat campaign, the constant debunking of the BBC News fact-checkers including misinformation reporter Marianna Spring and (non-Covid but just as important) campaigns like ITV’s climate disaster ad campaign showing an apocalyptic Coronation Street.

But the entertainment too, as difficult as it was to produce, had to reflect and salve the troubles we have now. Channel 4’s chief executive, Alex Mahon, said that people want to be entertained in a way that is ”cognizant of what they’re going through”. Every mask-wearing, distanced and often outdoor presenter on TV helped drive the idea that we should indeed take precautions, even if the government couldn’t make its mind up on the benefits…

Consider the contributions of these services next time the debate on funding reform comes around. How would this pandemic have played out with only partisan, view-driven, round-the-clock media? We all know the answer to that.

We’ll be celebrating all our favorite things about 2020 on thedrum.com between now and early January. Keep an eye on our New Year Honors hub to read more.

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