At What Point Do We Ban Joe Rogan?
By Rob Ranieri
The Joe Rogan Experience is among the most popular podcasts in the world, with 9.8 million YouTube subscribers and more than 190 million podcast downloads per month. Does Rogan’s popularity bring people into the medium or give podcasting a bad reputation? Should his controversial shows be banned from broadcast or would that be a crime against free speech?
The Joe Rogan show has attracted criticism for spreading misinformation (particularly, around COVID-19), transphobia and racism. Despite this, Spotify paid Rogan more than $100 million for the exclusive rights to his show. This led to music legends Neil Young and Joni Mitchell pulling their catalogs from Spotify to protest the platform’s support of Rogan. Daniel Ek, the chief executive of Spotify addressed the issue in a memo stating he found Rogan's words "incredibly hurtful" and inconsistent with company values, but did not believe "silencing" Rogan was the answer.
For the basis of this article being well-informed, I listened to some Joe Rogan Experience podcasts for the first time, having previously been turned off by his extreme views. Here are some impressions: these podcasts are LONG! The average length of his episodes are 2.5 hours. The one I listened to (one of the most famous, with guest Elon Musk) was 3.5 hours long. That’s longer than most feature films, something the Netflix generation deems as a very hefty commitment. With most podcast listeners tuning into episodes for 90% or more of a show, that is a very long time for fans to engage with Rogan’s content.
My second impression is that Rogan is a good host. Regardless of agreeing or disagreeing with his opinions, it is fair to say that he asks thoughtful questions and probes his guests in a skilled manner. Once you have listened to him for over 2 hours you can’t help but like him (especially if it’s an episode without all the jarring stances). Studies have shown that listeners build strong trust with podcasts hosts, 83% of podcast listeners say their favorite podcasters feel like friends. (Spotify). Rogan has built a strong, loyal following that are vocal advocates for his work and views, as well as casual listeners who tune in to see what all the fuss is about, or simply because his show is #1.
Third impression: where are the women? Looking through his guest catalog is a boy’s club roll-call, with men outnumbering women 9 to 1. Hardly balanced.
Last impression: listening to Rogan claim that the COVID vaccine is for “old and vulnerable people” makes for difficult listening. He has more followers and listeners than most news outlets. This is a dangerous amount of influence. He has also given a platform to climate skepticism from the controversial Jordan Peterson. That alone is enough to turn me off.
So why are his fans able to not only look past these transgressions, but to champion Rogan? Looking at forums online, his supporters appear to enjoy that he does not toe the line like an impartial, professional journalist usually would. One fan explains:
“Part of the seduction with Rogan is that he doesn’t appear to be controlled by outside interests. He’s natural. If you are used to watching, say, three hours of breakfast television a day, you know that Karl Stefanovic is not going to just say what he thinks or offer guests a joint or go super niche on things like defunding the police. And so when someone in the media does appear to break out of some corporate mold, it’s compelling” (Quora).
With the influx of celebrities promoting products for capital gain, it is understandable that fans are drawn to Rogan’s bold, confident voice, unbiased by any restrictions. However, as his incorrect and under-researched statements prove, he would perhaps benefit from the more rigorous checks and governance of a reputable media publisher.
Another fan raises the point that:
“His reputation and platform has allowed him to feature guests like Elon Musk, Neil Degrasse Tyson, and Edward Snowden on his show, people which, for anyone else, would be impossible to get on a show”
Whilst some of his interviews are indeed unique and compelling, there are some guests that should stay “impossible to get”, such as controversial conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, who is banned from YouTube, Facebook, and Apple.
This begs the question, are podcasts as regulated as other media platforms? The answer is no. The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) regulates broadcasting, telecommunications, radiocommunications and online content. Podcasts, on the other hand, have no regulatory oversight. The same applies in the US, with FCC monitoring other media, but not podcasts.
"Wherever you have users generating content, you're going to have all of the same content moderation issues and controversies that you have in any other space," said Evelyn Douek, a research fellow at Columbia University's Knight First Amendment Institute (NPR).
Of course, for some, podcast’s appeal is that they are less censored and regulated than other media. On the plus side, it creates a level playing ground for anyone to start and excel at podcasting, without the structure and red tape of a publishing outlet. As the industry gets more mainstream, more regulation is inevitable, and welcomed by some podcasters. Publishers like Spotify do have content guidelines, explaining why they removed dozens of episodes of “The Joe Rogan Experience” in response to a video documenting the many times Rogan used a racial slur on his podcasts.
Whether you believe that Joe Rogan is a free speaker and inspirational risk taker, or a dangerous promoter of baseless conspiracy theories, racism and sexism, his impact on the podcasting industry is significant. If Spotify dropped him, he would simply go elsewhere and the listeners would follow. Stronger regulation may mean that he and other controversial acts may choose to produce their content on other more niche mediums. The main thing we have learned here is the power of the medium and the trust it builds between host and listener.
Of course, we have to mention that if you’d like to harness the power of this immersive medium, contact us anytime.