Trust in UK news: Covid ups trust but Brexit effect remains - Press Gazette

Trust in UK news media boosted since pandemic but still lower than pre EU referendum

Trust in UK news

The proportion of people in the UK who say they trust the news media from 28% to 36% in a year – with coverage of the coronavirus pandemic possibly playing a role.

But trust levels are still lower than they were before the EU referendum in 2016, when 50% said they trusted the UK media.

The latest figures placed the UK 33rd out of the 46 countries involved in the rankings. Each had a sample size of about 2,000 with surveys conducted by Yougov.

The findings were revealed in the latest Digital News Report from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, published on Wednesday.

It found that in the UK 44% of people said they trust the news they use, while 15% trust news in search and 6% trust news on social media platforms.

Overall across 92,372 people surveyed in 46 countries, trust grew by six percentage points on average since before the pandemic with 44% of people saying they trust most news most of the time.

Half now say they trust the news they use most often themselves, up four percentage points.

This partly reverses widespread falls in trust in the media thought to have been driven at least in part by “increasingly bitter political and social debates”.

Meanwhile, overall trust in news on social and search platforms around the world remained “broadly stable” on 24% and 34% respectively.

The report’s lead author Nic Newman said: “We can speculate that this higher trust in the news – and in the sources people use themselves – could be related to extensive coverage of coronavirus.

“The focus on factual reporting during the Covid-19 crisis may have made the news seem more straightforward, while the story has also had the effect of squeezing out more partisan political news.

“This may be a temporary effect, but in almost all countries we see audiences placing a greater premium on accurate and reliable news sources.”

Interest waning in news

However, there has been a 17 percentage point drop since 2016 in the proportion in the UK who say they are very or extremely interested in the news, the joint biggest decline with Spain.

Overall many began to find coronavirus news “repetitive, confusing and even depressing”.

A 30-year-old woman in a UK focus group said: “I must admit that first of all I started watching it, really engrossed in it, and then as time went on, I found it quite depressing so I just cut it off.”

Similarly a 58-year-old man in the US said: “I’ve consumed less TV and radio because if it’s consistently Covid, Covid, Covid, or consistently
political fluff, then I just turn it off.”

Newman called this historic decline in interest “worrying”, with under-25s less likely to visit a news website or be committed to impartial news, and more likely to say they use social media as their main news source.

Trust in UK news brands

In the UK the BBC remains the most trusted news brand, with 62% of people ranking it between six to ten on a ten-point scale. It is followed by ITV News on 61%, Channel 4 News on 58%, the Financial Times on 56% and Sky News on 54%.

Newman attributed the dominance of broadcasters to their strict impartiality requirements.

This compares with the partisan popular newspaper market at the bottom of the rankings which puts The Sun as the least trusted brand of those included in the survey, with a trust score of 13% and distrust of 64%.

The Sun, and its rivals like the Mail, are particularly distrusted by the young and by those on the political left, Newman said.

The trust scores appear to align with audience trends as BBC, ITV and Sky News all increased their weekly reach but weekly use of printed newspapers fell by seven percentage points to 15%.

But the Covid bump for TV news from 55% to 60% masks a historic decline which has taken TV from being the biggest source of news with use by three-quarters of people in 2013.

Meanwhile social media use for news in the UK has doubled from 20% to 41% over the same time period.

Trust outside the UK: From Finland to the US

The only countries in Europe with lower news trust scores than the UK were France, Slovakia and Hungary all on 30%, and Greece and Bulgaria each on 32%.

Finland was the country with the highest trust in the media at 65% while the US has the lowest levels at 29%, which Reuters Institute said reflected the "divisive" presidential election and the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd last year which sparked nationwide protests.

The US was one of only a few countries not to see a growth in trust in the past year.

The report said: "Political divides fuel much of this mistrust in the United States, with those who self-identify on the right being more than twice as likely to distrust the news compared with those on the left.

"Resentment and anger are stoked by polarised TV networks such as right-leaning Fox News, One America News, and Newsmax and left-leaning CNN and MSNBC."

Reuters Institute director and report co-author Rasmus Kleis Nielsen said: "This year’s survey finds evidence that some brands have benefited from a desire for reliable information around the pandemic – both in terms of higher reach, higher trust, and more paying subscribers.

"While the effects are uneven, do not apply to all brands or all countries, and may not last after the crisis is over, these are positive findings from publishers’ point of view."

Perceptions of news and misinformation

The results were described as a "vote of confidence" for impartial news.

Three-quarters (74%) of respondents across the globe said they still prefer news that reflects a range of views and lets them decide what to think, while two-thirds think news outlets should try to be neutral on every issue.

Some younger groups however think "impartiality" is not appropriate or desirable in some circumstances, such as on social justice issues.

In the UK under-25s said they felt least represented by the media with just a fifth saying they were treated fairly compared to half of over-55s.

Meanwhile, both the left (44%) and the right (40%) claimed their political views were unfairly covered by the media.

Almost six in ten (58%) of the global sample expressed fears they would see misinformation online, up two percentage points.

The highest level of concern was around the behaviour of politicians (29%) followed by ordinary people (16%), activists (15%), journalists (11%) and foreign governments (9%).

And the biggest concern is in Africa where three-quarters (74%) are worried about misinformation. This is followed by Latin America (65%), North America (63%), Asia (59%) and lowest in Europe (54%).

Picture: Shutterstock

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1 thought on “Trust in UK news media boosted since pandemic but still lower than pre EU referendum”

  1. The Brexit referendum dealt a catastrophic blow to trust in the UK’s mainstream media. Ill-conceived coverage managed to totally alienate both sides of the debate. The butterfly effect of that, five years later, is a coronavirus death toll nearing 200,000 and the recent listing of Britain’s number one tabloid as a completely worthless business.

    The majority of national newspapers not only backed Brexit, but did so in a way which was aggressive, distasteful, disingenuous and dishonest. Disinformation was plastered daily across front pages. Scaremongering nonsense was treated with credulity. Anybody who attempted to correct the lies was branded an agent of ‘project fear’, or a ‘traitor’, or an ‘enemy of the people’. During that period, much of the UK’s national press resembled state propaganda under a tin-pot dictatorship.

    For anybody who had studied the evidence and wished to remain in the EU, the incendiary, juvenile and reckless way in which the press not only campaigned to leave – primarily to advance the business interests of their billionaire owners – but also actively encouraged the abuse and demonisation of anybody on the other side of the debate, completely destroyed their trust in the press. That’s almost half of the UK’s population, now completely unable to trust its national newspaper industry to act honestly or responsibly.

    What is more fascinating, though, is that it appears those who favoured Brexit came out of it distrusting the media even more those who wanted to remain.

    It is an incredible paradox: The UK’s mainstream media was overwhelmingly in favour of Brexit, yet Brexit supporters remain convinced to this day that the media is controlled by “woke lefty remoaners” who want to sabotage them.

    In truth, the majority of the UK’s mainstream media is not only right-wing but in some cases so right-wing that international organisations have raised concerns about them. The UN compared a Sun editorial, saying war refugees were ‘cockroaches’ and should be machine-gunned and left to drown, to Nazi propaganda.

    Yet look at GB News. Look at the fervent, hysterical, almost religious devotion of its supporters. They are absolutely, unerringly convinced that the media is intrinsically left-wing and is out to get anybody right of centre. There is no truth to it, and the reality is the exact opposite, but they cannot and will not be told. Present them with hard evidence? ‘It’s fake.’ ‘Fake news.’ ‘Typical lefty MSM propaganda.’ ‘Typical lefty academic propaganda.’ And so on.

    How did this happen? It’s not rocket science. It happened because right-wing media whipped up a moral panic and told its audiences every day for years that they were a disrespected and downtrodden minority. It was all part of the campaign: ‘The establishment doesn’t want you to vote Brexit. Everybody’s in on it – the government, the media, the bureaucrats, the immigrants. They all want to remain. We’re the only ones brave enough to tell you the truth. So you be brave too. You go to that polling station and you show them who’s really boss!’

    It was another incredible paradox: A mainstream media overwhelmingly in favour of Brexit, yet constantly preaching to its audience that the media was controlled by pinkos who were trying to trick them into remaining.

    And it worked. The billionaires won their tax relief. They won their watering down of workers’ rights. They won their relaxation of expensive health & safety rules and carbon-offsetting obligations.

    But it also blew up in their faces – because after the referendum, the people kept believing the lie. They kept on believing the mainstream media was a left-wing propaganda factory, out to destroy their lives.

    And that’s how you ended up with huge swathes of the population believing coronavirus was an invention to cover up deaths from 5G, or the vaccine was a conspiracy to wipe out 90% of the human race as part of a ‘great reset’.

    And now the newspapers are being hoisted by their own petard as well – furiously demanding on their front pages an end to the lockdown ‘madness’ which is destroying businesses (namely, theirs).

    The Brexit loonies they had obsequiously promoted were now in charge, making a complete pig’s ear of the official response to coronavirus. The public they had instructed on a daily basis to distrust facts and evidence and experts now invested in internet conspiracy theories, mocking and ignoring the official guidance and dismissing anyone who followed it as ‘sheep’.

    Ministers watched, aghast. After years of instructing the public not to believe the media, they scratched their heads as a deadly pandemic tore through the country’s population and its economy, and asked, ‘But why are so many people refusing to listen to the facts and the evidence and the experts?’

    All of this government incompetence and public non-compliance with pretty simply health guidance served to extend and exacerbate repeated periods of lockdown and associated restrictions. This in turn vastly diminished newspapers’ income – both due to the lack of daily footfall in shops and train stations and due to the inability of advertisers to open and promote their businesses. This month, Rupert Murdoch was forced to list the value of the Sun newspaper as £0.00.

    Was it worth it?

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