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Weekly Digest: Restrictions and Expansions

Welcome to The Fix’s weekly news digest! Every Friday, we bring you five important news stories from the world of media – and try to put them in a wider context.

This week brought promising news for the whole world: pharmaceutical company Pfizer announced its COVID-19 vaccine is 90% effective based on early analysis – a surprisingly high efficacy rate achieved within a record-breaking timeline.

More analysis and regulatory approval are yet to come, but the likelihood of having a widely available vaccine within several months is already prompting the media and tech platforms to ramp up their efforts in fighting vaccine misinformation.

As Poynter notes, Pfizer’s announcement itself became a subject of conspiracy theories falsely alleging it was deliberately made after the US presidential election to hurt Trump. More worryingly, the COVID-19 vaccine in general might become a subject of wide online skepticism, starting with the thriving anti-vax community but spreading far beyond it. 

To prevent that from happening, social media platforms are adjusting their rules and taking proactive measures. Facebook banned ads discouraging vaccination and promoted getting a flu vaccine. YouTube is also taking an active approach, removing unproven vaccine misinformation and limiting distribution of gray-area cases, according to Recode. The problem is getting the balance right, as the platforms cannot just ban any form of skepticism or uncertainty.

This week has been a mixed bag for the BBC.

On Thursday, the Equalities and Human Rights Commission cleared the corporation of illegal pay discrimination allegations. The investigation, set up early last year, showed no evidence of unlawful gender pay discrimination. The report does, however, “identify some areas where the BBC can make improvements to… and increase transparency.” The public broadcaster claims to be working on it. 

However, Carrie Gracie, a former BBC journalist who famously raised the issue of the gender pay gap in 2018, criticized the decision as a “whitewash.” Gracie and BBC Women, a group working towards pay equality, claimed that the commission looked closely at only a handful of pay discrimination cases. According to the group’s statement, “New cases are coming forward and women are still heading to court. We fight on.”

More from The Fix: BBC Annual Report Shows “Strong Year”, Need for More Reforms 

On multiple occasions, we have written on Spotify’s expansion to the podcasting market – from bold moves like making a massive deal with one of the world’s most popular podcasts to technical development like testing video podcasts.

Now, it seems like Spotify is on course to a logical culmination of all this expansion – creating a paid subscription service specifically for podcasts. No formal announcement has yet been made, but it seems something that Spotify is seriously considering. 

As Nieman Lab’s Joshua Benton points out, Spotify won’t have it easy. The market of paid premium podcasts is inherently difficult to work with, given that you are competing against a large library of free content.

However, the Swedish-based company is as well-positioned to try as can be. It’s a big company with strong institutional support, and it already has exclusive podcasting deals with some big names, including Joe Rogan, Michelle Obama and Kim Kardashian. Last year, it also acquired podcasting companies Gimlet Media and Anchor.

Talking about subscriptions – recent research shows that media publishers are ramping up subscription marketing, advertising subscription products more aggressively.

According to Piano, a paywall platform, “the median percentage of site visitors [among the company’s clients] who were shown a subscription offer was nearly three times higher in September than it was in March”. The approach extends beyond Piano’s customer base, according to Digiday

The changes come partly because publishers are less and less happy with their advertising revenue and partly because some outlets have finalized getting paywall infrastructure in place, after having fully realized its importance earlier this year.

The UK government has announced plans to ban all online advertisement of junk food; an unprecedented and “world-leading” proposal, according to The Guardian, the. Predictably, the plan “delight[ed] health campaigners and dismay[ed] advertising industry”.

The COVID-19 pandemic provides important arguments for both sides. On the one hand, junk food is among the causes of obesity, which puts people at risk of complications from Covid. On the other hand, the economy has already taken a big hit from the pandemic, and new limits on a portion of the advertising market would be especially difficult for the industry.

Bonus — Five more stories you might want to check out:

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