MEDIA CREDIBILITY IS dying at high speed—and trust in liberal governments is following in tandem, according to a new major global survey.
Half of all respondents now view governments and media as “divisive forces in society”, said the huge study, which collected data from 36,000 respondents in 28 countries.
But public confidence in executive-led governments such as China and the United Arab Emirates rose, indicating that strong leadership was highly valued during unsettled times.
“We find a world ensnared in a vicious cycle of distrust, fuelled by a growing lack of faith in media and government,” said researchers at the Edelman Trust Barometer. “Through disinformation and division, these two institutions are feeding the cycle and exploiting it for commercial and political gain.”
The Edelman Trust Barometer in considered authoritative, having collected data on these topics for 20 years.
The problem is that anger wins clicks, creating what researchers called a “government-media distrust spiral” – and the public has become widely aware that the media does not play it straight.
In a telling display that people are right to be sceptical, the UK news agency Reuters released a report summarizing the survey but omitting criticism of the media.
“The media business model has become dependent on generating partisan outrage, while the political model has become dependent on exploiting it,” said Richard Edelman, chief executive officer.
“Two institutions people rely on for truth are doing a dangerous tango of short-term mutual advantage, with exaggeration and division to gain clicks and votes,” he added. “Whatever short-term benefits either institution derives, it is a long-term catastrophe for society.”
NEWS FILLED WITH LIES
People in most countries have developed a high level of scepticism. “Now, around two-thirds of respondents believe traditional authority figures—journalists, government leaders and business executives—flat-out lie,” Edelman said. ”The ominous result: in many democracies, institutions are trusted by less than 50 percent of their people.”
The institutions of Germany, Australia, the Netherlands, South Korea and the United States lost most public trust, the study showed.
It’s interesting to note that this situation was predicted by Eric Xun Li writing in this media outlet last year. (Click here to read his forecast.)
The study gave hope to new voices in the media space. “There is a turning away from traditional news sources because of the perception of bias and fake news,” researchers said, with 76 percent of respondents rejecting dominant news sources.
Non-governmental organizations were trusted far more than mainstream media, giving hope to independent media outlets.
CHINESE ARE UPBEAT
Meanwhile, the public favors executive-led governments during this present unsettled pandemic period, the study showed, with China’s leadership attracting strong support, followed by United Arab Emirates, Indonesia, Singapore and others (scroll up for chart).
“Trust among Chinese citizens in their government reached a record 91 percent, the highest seen in a decade,” said researcher Deborah Lehr. (The equivalent US figures was 39 percent.) However, trust in Chinese companies outside China had been driven sharply downwards to 31 percent, a record low.
However, not all governments labelled “authoritarian” came out well — Russian citizens had little trust in their institutions.
The data suggests that governments need to inspire confidence—something they have failed to do during the Covid-19 outbreak. “Government must finally gain control over the pandemic on a global basis,” Edelman said. “The media needs to get back to a business model that replaces outrage with sobriety, clickbait with calm authority.”
But he didn’t sound hopeful. “Distrust is now society’s default emotion,” he said.
Picture at the top by Dinnow/ Pexels