Politically Polarized Countries Likely to Have Lesser Trust in Journalists
Sat, April 10, 2021

Politically Polarized Countries Likely to Have Lesser Trust in Journalists

People from politically polarized countries are less likely to trust journalists, especially those related to the "tangible relationship between media and politics." Globally, however, public trust is not exclusively tied to a country's political system, according to a new global report / Photo by: al-grishin via Pixabay

 

People from politically polarized countries are less likely to trust journalists, especially those related to the "tangible relationship between media and politics." Globally, however, public trust is not exclusively tied to a country's political system, according to a new global report.

The 2018 Wellcome Global Monitor study included how much the public trusts reporters, with results ranging as low as 12% to as high as 93%—implying that trust in media men is complicated.

The Degree of Public Trust

From the varying degree of trust in journalists, the Wellcome Global Monitor study found that the median trust level is at 59%. It also concluded that the median trust is similar among democratic and non-democratic countries, with an average of 60%. Analytics and advisory company Gallup says these political systems see significant differences in terms of attitudes.

Respondents from Finland (83%), Myanmar (80%), and Norway (80%) said they trust reporters "a lot" or "some," making them the three democratic countries that have the highest confidence in media men. In contrast, the bottom three when it comes to public trust in correspondents among democratic countries are Taiwan (25%), Serbia (23%), and Greece (12%).

The number of people who said they trust journalists much higher among non-democratic countries, with about nine in 10 adults in Uzbekistan (93%), Tanzania (90%), and Rwanda (89%) saying they accept what the media tells them. Only one in three respondents from Mauritania (33%), Gabon (32%), and Yemen (29%) said the same.

"Trust in journalists is also not associated with media freedom as measured by Reporters Without Borders," Gallup says. "In fact, the relationship between trust in media men and media freedom is weak and goes in the opposite direction that may be expected, where greater media freedom is associated with less trust."

Another possible factor that affects public trust in journalists is political polarization, in which an individual's stance on a given issue, policy or person is more likely to be strictly defined by their identification with a particular political party or ideology.

In the US, the degree of trust in media plummeted from 68% in 1972 to 4% today. A recent Gallup report shows similar declines, specifically among people who "perceive a large gap between their political ideology and the perceived ideology of local news organizations," the analytics company says.

"While trust in the media and trust in reporters differ, the two concepts are related enough to suspect a relationship between political polarization and trust in journalists may exist around the world," it adds. The Wellcome Global Monitor study concluded that the more a country is politically polarized, the less its citizens will likely trust correspondents. However, it's still unclear if greater political polarization is the cause for lesser confidence in media men.

A high level of trust doesn't necessarily mean a good thing; it's either the media are diligently fulfilling their roles or that society merely accepts false narratives. Similarly, a lower level of trust could also mean two things: society is aware of those false narratives or excessive cynicisms that warns of society's acceptance of a post-truth reality.

"Regardless, a low level of trust can pose a danger because it erodes the media's and journalists' ability to operate as the fourth estate that holds power accountable and promotes civic discussion," Gallup explains.

Rebuilding Trust in Media and Journalists

With the global disparity in trust in media, along with growing skepticism on news outlets, reporters are turning to digital tools to engage more with the people. One way of doing so is through open-source journalism, in which journalists investigate and write stories based on publicly available information.

Open-source journalists typically use user-generated content as their primary source material for their investigation—allowing them to easily and directly connect to visual evidence online instead of referring to private sources.

These techniques could also help the media restore the public's trust in them through improved transparency, given that such methods involve journalists providing a behind-the-scenes look into their report making process.

The Business Insider reports a manifesto written by NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen, in which he addressed the news media to advocate journalists to be transparent with their work. Rosen said reporters and other news producers should explain how they came up with their news content—which Business Insider says can improve trust in journalism over time.

A collaborative report from Gallup and Knight Foundation indicates some truth to that claim. Among US consumers, 74% believe journalists should interact with audiences on social media. Another 93% said they approve of journalists' use of social media not only to share additional research or details that went into their reporting but also to answer inquiries from their audience regarding their report.

An example of which is how The Washington Post reporter David Fahrenthold used Twitter to gather information for his Pulitzer-winning piece regarding the donations for Trump's presidential campaign in 2016, which involved tweet updates about his progress on stories and asking followers for tips to guide his work.

"Publishers should encourage journalists to engage in this sort of behavior both on social platforms and as a way to create additional opportunities for journalists to demonstrate the process behind their work," Business Insider says. "Increasing reporters' social media presence can promote trust, but only if people know where to find such interactions."

It adds that reporters who willingly interact with their audiences on social media are perceived as more authentic and credible, helping new consumers ease their doubts on the news they see on such platforms.

But even with this preference, relatively few consumers said they see such activity online. The Gallup-Knight Foundation report shows only 10% said they "frequently" see reporter-audience interaction on social media compared to the 36% who said they have never seen it.

Such techniques can become a central component of journalists' published narrative or a quasi-methodology in which they can narrate and provide evidence about how they were able to come up with their conclusions.

"While this practice may not be achievable for every story, it can likely be effective for longer-term investigative reporting projects," the Business Insider notes.

"Publishers may also want to explore other ways to lift the hood on the reporting process."