One of the great things about podcasting is the fact that it’s a medium which is accessible for everyone. You don’t need to be a qualified presenter with years and years of experience to start a podcast; all you really need is a good mic and some basic editing, and you’re golden.
The medium also allows podcasters freedom of speech on which topics they choose to cover or express their opinions on. This can and does result in great things for raising awareness on more sensitive issues, since podcasters aren’t restricted by the same broadcasting rules or regulatory oversight that often hamstring more mainstream coverage.
However, there is a danger to this, as some podcasters may take advantage of this freedom in having a platform, and may use it to share misinformation or extremist ideologies without the risk of being demonetised or censored. Because there’s no regulatory body for podcasting, these podcasters may end up building a cult following which automatically believes any information or worldview presented to them - no matter how toxic the ideology behind it.
Take Andrew Tate, for example. For those that are unaware, Tate is a viral social media personality and convicted sex offender who uses his platform to promote misogynistic ideologies to easily brainwashed followers. In 2022, Tate hosted his own podcast, in which he was allowed to freely share his views to an audience of impressionable young men without risk of being censored, and even after being banned from social media platforms like Instagram and Twitter for violating user guidelines, his content continued to be widely reshared.
Similarly, Joe Rogan has been called out numerous times for spreading misinformation about various health topics including coronavirus and vaccines on his podcast - yet he continues to be given a podcast platform because of his large audience and his position as the most-listened to podcast in the US.
There is precedent for podcast platforms taking a stand against this kind of harmful content, albeit slim; in 2018, Apple and Spotify joined most of the major tech platforms in removing right-wing grifter and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and his InfoWars brand from their services. Jones had a high profile, and his removal caused cries of censorship from a few places, but he was undeniably on the extreme end of the spectrum and his banishment remains largely uncontroversial. On the other hand, the fact remains that he is one of the only major cases of a podcast being delisted for its content.
Just because podcasters are allowed to do and post whatever they want, it doesn’t mean they should. Having a platform comes with a lot of responsibilities, and hosts must ensure that they are doing proper research and fact-checking when it comes to the content they’re sharing and the guests that they have on - especially when it comes to certain genres where audiences are more vulnerable to misinformation, such as news, politics or health and wellbeing.
Not every podcaster can be like Joe Rogan; if you’re an average creator with an average following, sharing harmful content or misinformation can cause you to lose trust with your listeners, and once that’s gone, it can be very hard to gain it back. Trust is extremely powerful in podcasting - it’s the bedrock of building engagement and loyalty, but in order to keep it, podcasters should make sure they’re being honest with their audience.
It’s also worth noting that listeners themselves must take a certain level of responsibility in terms of doing their own research, making sure they’re expanding the types of podcast they’re listening to in order to get the full picture, just as one would with any form of media.
There is no regulatory body for podcasts in the UK and it is highly unlikely that one will be established. Regulating podcasts may not even be feasible due to the sheer range of content that is posted online across multiple podcast platforms - and even if one does emerge, who knows what disadvantages it could lead to in terms of reducing freedom of speech and censoring different viewpoints?
With this in mind, the podcast industry must ensure that it self-regulates, weeding out bad actors and harmful elements to make the industry safe and welcoming for listeners and creators alike, in order to keep this medium accessible and free for everyone.