Trust in traditional media grows but UK now 'a nation of news-avoiders'

Trust in traditional media grows but UK now 'a nation of news-avoiders'

The UK public's trust in traditional media has rebounded significantly as trust in social media as a news source dips and Britain becomes "a nation of news-skimmers and news-avoiders".

That’s according to the new Edelman Trust Barometer, released today.

The UK section of the barometer, based on a survey of 3,000 Britons, also points to a return of trust in ‘experts’; a decline in trust in social media companies; and the lack of trust in governments increasingly becoming the ‘default’ position.

In total, 61 per cent said they trusted traditional media (broadcasters and publishers) as a source for general news and information. That’s the highest level since 2012, and 13 percentage points ahead of 2017.

The only other media source to see year-on-year increases is online-only media (including the likes of Buzzfeed and Huffington Post), which saw a five-point boost to 45 per cent.

By contrast, trust in social media fell two points to 24 per cent, while the figure for search engines declined by seven points to 47 per cent. Over half of Britons (53 per cent) worry about being exposed to fake news on social media, and 64 per cent cannot distinguish between proper journalism and fake news.

Trust in the media in general was flat at 32 per cent, and the survey pointed to declining interest in news generally. One third admitted to consuming less news than they used to, and one in five avoid the news completely.

The three most popular reasons for switching off were the news agenda being too depressing (40 per cent), too biased (33 per cent), and the news being controlled by "hidden agendas" (27 per cent).

Just six per cent of people surveyed described themselves as "informed" (defined as reading business and political news "several times a week or more"). The figure had never before fallen below 11 per cent.

Edelman UK CEO Ed Williams said: "We are clearly seeing significant changes in people’s news consumption habits. The breadth of information available on the internet is not resulting in the same depth we once saw.

"As we look at some of the big problems we face in the 21st century, it should be of significant concern to us all that we are becoming a nation of news-skimmers and news-avoiders. It’s frightening that the professional classes, the people we rely on to take an interest in social affairs and to hold politicians to account, are the most pronounced news avoiders."

Experts back in favour

Two years after pro-Brexit campaigner Michael Gove famously said "people in this country have had enough of experts", the Barometer suggests experts are back in favour.

Edelman pointed to the increased number of people saying they trusted CEOs (up 14 points to 42 per cent), boards of directors (up 10 points to 38 per cent), journalists (up 13 points to 32 per cent), financial experts (up eight points to 51 per cent) and government officials (up seven points to 37 per cent).

However, the number of people indicating trust in businesses dipped slightly, falling two points to 43 per cent. The most commonly cited barriers to trusting business are overpaid executives (58 per cent); a failure to pay the appropriate levels of corporation and personal tax (56 per cent); and dishonesty and a lack of transparency in business dealings (45 per cent).

Governments less trusted

However, businesses were ahead of governments in the trust stakes. Just 36 per cent said the trust the UK Government, a figure that has hardly changed since 2013, although they remain more trusted than media (32 per cent).

As per the below chart, NGOs (trusted by 46 per cent of people) and businesses (43 per cent) retain a higher level of trust than media and Government.

Almost half of respondents believe government is the most broken of those four institutions. It is also seen as the most corrupt, and 40 per cent believe it abuses its power more than any other pillar of society.

However, the public draw a distinction between government and party leaders. Despite a turbulent year, trust in Prime Minister Theresa May rose four points to 39 per cent. Jeremy Corbyn had a bigger bounce - trust in the Labour leader rose 13 points to 36 per cent.

Almost 60 per cent of people feel their views aren’t represented in British politics today. The survey also points to a worried population, with the biggest concerns being around the ability of the NHS to care for an aging demographic (79 per cent), risks of rising political and religious extremism (72 per cent), and growing economic uncertainty (67 per cent).

Will Walden, head of government relations at Edelman UK, said: "We forget we are at the tail end of a decade that began with the financial crisis and ended with the division over Brexit.

"Distrust is now the default position. Politics doesn’t matter to people in the way it once did. What matters is a sense of accountability and follow-through, delivering on policy promises that help ordinary people, and communicating honestly and transparently. This is true of both Remainers and Brexiteers."

Social media firms lose public trust

Social media companies have lost the trust of the public, the Barometer suggests, with 70 per cent agreeing that they do not do enough to prevent illegal or unethical behaviours on their platforms.

The same proportion agree these companies do not do enough to prevent the sharing of extremist content, and 69 per cent agree they don’t do enough to combat cyberbullying.

Meanwhile, more than one third of those surveyed believe social media is not good for society, with 64 per cent agreeing that they are not sufficiently regulated and 63 per cent believing they lack transparency.

Williams said: "After a flood of negative headlines in 2017, it’s time these companies sat up and listened. The public want action on key issues related to online protection, and to see their concerns addressed through better regulation. Failure on their part to act risks further erosion of trust and therefore public support."

This article was first published on

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