Joe Rogan’s unconventional approach to podcasting has landed him and the streaming platform that hosts his show in hot water

A few weeks ago, musicians like Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and Paul Simon all made the decision to pull their music from Spotify, saying Rogan’s podcast – which has repeatedly aired contentious views, and sometimes misinformation, regarding the Covid-19 pandemic, vaccines, and other issues – was harming society, and Spotify, which doesn’t edit or fact-check the podcast, was enabling this. 

On today’s episode of The Detail, Emile Donovan speaks to the host of RNZ’s Mediawatch, Colin Peacock, and RNZ’s head of podcasts, Tim Watkin, about how the saga has unfolded; what it says about the state of popular trust in media and current affairs; and the uneasy questions platforms like Spotify face, as they pivot away from their original business models and into the realms of news and current affairs. 

Every episode of The Joe Rogan Experience – which can stretch to three or four hours in length – is listened to by about 11 million people. It’s this popularity that led to an astonishing deal last year, in which Spotify paid Rogan a reported US$100 million for exclusive distribution rights to the podcast.  

But the platform and the product are somewhat uneasy bedfellows: Rogan’s image is that of a free-thinking, anti-authoritarian, open-minded renegade, someone who isn’t wedded to political ideology, who challenges the popular consensus. 

Spotify, on the other hand, is as corporate an entity as you can get: it’s won the battle for online music streaming and is now looking to dominate the field of podcasts – Rogan’s being an integral part of that strategy. 

The unpolished, spontaneous nature of Rogan’s podcast pushes the boundaries; sometimes it crosses them. The host – who freely admits to not preparing for interviews – sometimes features guests whose views venture into the conspiratorial, and sometimes outright dangerous. 

This is particularly true in the age of Covid-19: the pandemic is the biggest story in town and it’s forced many programmes and podcasts – including The Joe Rogan Experience – to pivot from their usual fare to becoming heavily Covid-centric, even when those involved have little to no expertise on reading, researching, or interviewing people about these dynamic scientific developments. 

So where does the responsibility lie for making sure what gets published is accurate, or mistruths are challenged? 

“[Rogan’s] getting so much money, tens of millions of dollars at least, from this multi-year deal with Spotify. That means you don’t have an excuse not to create a decent product,” Peacock says. 

“Why not try harder, or use the power of the internet to ameliorate some of these concerns? 

“If the appeal of it is he’s just a normal guy, asking normal questions … he’s got his own website, Spotify has its own platform; why not post links, why not pay a few people to run through some of the claims if they turn out to be controversial? Get ahead of it and prepare some contrary information. 

“I think that would be a good thing.” 

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