Podcast is No Longer a Wild West? Censorship in Audio Streaming Platform

Information

Date: May 19, 2022 14:00-16:00

Moderator

  • Chen, Yi-Ning,National Cheng Chi University College of Communication,Full-time Professor

Panelists:

  • Wang, Yi-Yu,Department Head,SoundOn
  • Du, Sheng-tsung,Chair/Associate Professor,Department Of Radio And Television,Ming Chuan University
  • Chen, Yen-shen ,Associate Professor,Institute Of Communication Studies,National Yang Ming Chiao Tung University
  • Yang, Kuei-Chih,Host,Podcast《法客電台 By Plain Law Movment》

 

Wang, Yi-Yu, Department Head, SoundOn

Wang recognized that Taiwanese public awareness of podcast began in 2018. It was by then that local podcast platforms started to emerge. Local platforms allow easier production and uploading of local podcast contents, which in turn encouraged more Podcasters starting produce original contents. As one of the local platforms, SoundOn’s current priority is to make local podcast producing accessible and sustainable, any kind of regulations will have to come after that.
Unlike cable or broadcast radio, Podcast as open Internet platforms do no need to obtain government permit, therefore is not bound by the public interest and licensing requirements. In the realms of podcast, we have yet seen any oligarchs as the case in search engine or social media platforms, so the quasi-public characteristics are still far-fetch.
The operation of SoundOn complies with the Radio and Television Act in principle, but several distinctions remain. For example, political talk shows on TV could face penalties if failing to encompass diverse opinions, but this will not be the case for podcast. Wang added that it is worth exploring whether regulating podcast content to ensure fairness and objectivity is necessary.
Wang also noticed that many content creators and audience have migrated to podcast to avoid the more restrictive rules of traditional media. Were the same rules start applying to podcast, Wang worries that this will create problems for platform operators and users, while hindering the growth of podcast. In the EU, it is when the valid user population of a product reaches 10% national population that the company producing the products is deemed as having social influence. As podcast in Taiwan has not reach such scale, Wang believed it is still early to talk about regulating the industry.
Among the five top podcast platforms in Taiwan, three of them are international enterprises. Whether future possible regulations can effectively rein in the international players, or could it only impede the development of local players, remains the important question the law makers have to tackle.
There are currently more than 10,000 podcast shows on SoundOn. The company is not capable of reviewing the content of every single show with its limited resource. The only thing SoundOn can do now is developing and publishing users agreement. By requiring users to agree to the terms and conditions, SoundOn strives to comply with the law while protecting freedom of speech.

Du, Sheng-tsung, Chair/Associate Professor, Department Of Radio And Television, Ming Chuan University

Tu made it clear that all digital media should be held accountable for the content. While some content could be understood as free speech, some content do inflict harms to the society. He argues that the digital platforms will have to account for content that is malicious, fake, and can cause harm.
There are three approaches of which platforms can deploy to ensure accountability: autonomy, heteronomy, and law. Examples of autonomy can be user policies published by the platform operators, while heteronomy might involve supervision from the authority. Law will be the ultimate approach. Tu stressed that platform providers have to be held accountable while making money. However, the answers remain unclear whether podcast can be deemed as an industry for its unsignificant scale.
The limited scale should make self-regulation much easier for podcast platforms. As for now, podcast still lacks the ability of setting issues and leading trends, not to mention creating chaos. Currently, it would be best to not regulate podcast and patiently wait for it to grow.

 

The three stakeholders in the issue of audio platforms content regulation are: platform providers, users, and third parties (the government, for example). Chen explained why there are needs for regulations. For platforms, regulations ensure the contents are aligned with the platform’s mission. For users, regulations optimize contents, thus create better user experience. For the government, it means that the contents from the platform will, at the minimum, comply with the law. Chen also stressed that regulation is not a zero-sum problem, but a spectrum where all stakes and interests are considered. The scope and enforcement are also subject to constant modifications.
As to how to regulate, Chen proposed five elements: autonomy, heteronomy, artificial intelligence (with appropriate human assistance), users, and financial benefits. Another point for the policy makers to consider is whether the regulations should be ex ante or ex post.
Last but not least, we should consider ‘what’ content to regulate. There are existing law in Taiwan to deal with illegal content. Chen argued that the content regulation discussions are more or less the same regardless the media. The only difference of Podcast is its limited scale, and instead of enforcing strict regulations, we should pay more attention to educating the users.

Yang, Kuei-Chih, Host, Podcast《法客電台 By Plain Law Movment》

Yang introduced the players in the Podcast ecosystem, including content creators, hosting platforms (e.g. Firstory, SoundOn), players (e.g. Apple Podcast, Spotify), the audience, and advertisers. The most well-known video content sharing, YouTube, is itself the hosting platform and player at the same time. This makes it much easier for them to regulate content. When it comes to Podcasts, things operate differently. All Podcast contents have to be uploaded to hosting platforms first to be transferred through RSS to players. It is much harder to take down contents as users can simply move to other players to access the same Podcast contents.
Enforcing regulations via hosting platforms means that the platforms will need sufficient labor to listen and review every single podcast episode. Algorithm is another possibility, but this inevitably increase the responsibility and burden for platform service providers. Regulating from the player’s end is challenging, too, as the service providers might claim not having access to the original audio.
Is there a need to regulate the regulator? Supervise the supervisor? Take YouTube for example, the platform has three levels in its reviewing mechanism; red refers to sensitive or offensive content and is barred from benefitting from in-video ads. If a video is classified as yellow, then its choice of ads would be limited. However, this reviewing mechanism has been criticized for its lack of transparency and legitimacy.
When it comes to regulating Podcast, one of the most contented issue is ‘who makes the rules’. A universal standard is impossible as social and cultural contexts varies. On the other hand, concerns of bias and lack of transparency arise if we rely solely on the platforms to develop and enforce rules. How to maintain the firm but thin line between review and censorship is yet another dilemma.
Yang invited the participants to consider these questions: who is the best fit for regulating contents in the Podcast ecosystem? How do we reach consensus and establish community guidance in a democratic way? How do we supervise platform service providers in the Internet ecosystem, and democratically? What mechanisms do we have in place when content creator’s rights are violated? Yang noted that answers to these questions will be the foundation of a reasonable and effective reviewing mechanism.