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Yle as a two-way communications hub during crisis/exceptional circumstances

The speed of technological change and an expanding societal interdependence, combined with a natural tendency by people to experience exceptional circumstances both individually and collectively, will increase expectations on Yle as a trusted hub of information, analysis and context during diverse societal crises or emergencies.

Taking advantage of its focus on reach over marketshare, strong online brand (Yle Areena), high trust ratings, and benefits conferred by public service derived legal obligations, Yle must through inventive use of technology provide the world's best crisis/emergency communications services, to every person in Finland.

The basis for Yle's responsibility to function as a communications channel during crises or national emergencies derives from the law concerning Yle. Consistent with the comprehensive view of potential sources of instability or threats seen in the Security Strategy for Society, Yle's responsibilities range from warning about lose wildlife in urban areas to maintaining both radio and tv broadcasts during crisis or war. Considering Yle's and the Finnish population's online presence, the law should be amended to include online services such as Areena.

By 2020 Yle should have moved from a one-way crisis information communication approach that is based on forwarding notifications and information from Finnish authorities, to a two-way dynamic model. The two-way model enables Yle to better serve the diverse audiences, actors and time-spans that make up different exceptional circumstances or crises. Its goal would be to offer more localized, time and task sensitive information and support social sharing that increase individual and strengthen societal resilience in the face of exceptional circumstances.

In this model Yle would provide the platform, moderating services and some content, with the two major other content producers being various authorities and the population at large. The moderating service – which needs to be scalable – is needed to prevent the misuse of the platform for spreading propaganda or disinformation.

For example, a serious disruption of the national power supply (for whatever reason) would leave a short time window measurable in hours during which critical information needs to be pushed to the population. This includes information from authorities, such as known extent and causes of the disruption, as well as initial actions taken, as well as crowdsourced relevant information. Yle could through its Areena application (or its successor) automatically push information packets regarding suggested actions individuals or households should take. A pushed packet with videos and documents could be used after the telecommunications network becomes compromised. Indicated or automatic location detection and Yles trusted status would also enable Yle to serve as the hub of local peer to peer emergency assistance and cooperation, reducing the immediate pressure on authorities.

The two-way model of emergency crisis communication does not require new technology to be developed, improvements in network and device performance can improve some aspects of delivery but the general infrastructure is in place. The main hurdles are psychological and legal. As a forward looking public broadcaster Yle has the opportunity to move from a crisis communication intermediary to a core building block of societal resilience during exceptional circumstances. It requires a driven internal team and external supporters, the population and authorities will one day find it indispensable.

Charly Salonius-Pasternak smiling.
Charly Salonius-Pasternak smiling. charly salonius-pasternak

Charly Salonius-Pasternak
Charly works as a Senior Research Fellow at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs, focusing on Nordic, transatlantic and U.S. security and defence policies. He has also worked for the Finnish Defence Forces as international affairs adviser to the senior leadership and account manager for all Finnish and Danish clients at the technology research firm Forrester Research. A traditional liberal arts education and lifelong fascination with how different fields of study and areas of experience interact to change society, combined with a willingness to say what needs to be said has resulted in frequent tv, radio, print appearances, and some grief from official political Finland.

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