The impact of declining trust in the media

Conventional wisdom suggests that global levels of trust in traditional media have declined over the last five years. Is this true and, if so, what does it mean for corporate communicators?

The author(s)
  • Lauren Bridges Ipsos Public Affairs, UK
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Do people trust the media nowadays?

The public’s trust in newspapers and magazines varies greatly between countries, according to a new Ipsos study across 27 countries. For example, while in India 77% of consumers have a great deal or a fair amount trust these media, this is only true for 11% in Serbia. At a global level, 47% of people say they trust newspapers and magazines. Trust is slightly higher for TV and radio globally at 49%, however, there are great differences by country. For instance, whereas 68% of consumers say they trust these media in Malaysia, only 27% of those in Poland say they do.

For online news websites and platforms, trust is slightly lower at 45% and by contrast, 50% say they have not very much or no trust in these channels at all. When we look at levels of trust in people known predominantly through the internet, this is particularly low with 64% of people globally saying they do not trust them.

These findings of fairly low trust in traditional media and even lower trust in online media sources are perhaps unsurprising, given the criticisms they have been subjected to in recent times; showing political bias, prioritising speed of reporting over accuracy, publishing inaccurate information and in the case of online platforms - using clickbait. Indeed, findings from the latest Ipsos Reputation Council showed that at a global level, media is believed to be among the top three industries currently facing the greatest reputation challenges.

Do people trust the media more or less than in the past?

In most countries, trust is more often perceived to have decreased over the last five years than to have increased. Around a third of people across the globe (34%) trust newspapers and magazines less than they did five years ago.

Graph shows: Perceived change of trust in newspapers and magazines


Globally, one in three (34%) say they trust TV and radio as a source of information less than they did five years ago.

Graph shows: Perceived change of trust in television and radio


Regarding online news websites and platforms, around a third (32%) say they trust them less than they did five years ago.

Graph shows: Perceived change in trust in online platforms


Media corporations are therefore operating in a particularly challenging climate, where they need to understand and work hard to overcome concerns about the sources communicating about them. This additional dimension to reputational management is worthy of consideration and suggests that trust in the medium may undermine trust in the message. Therefore, communicators are likely to benefit from focussing on trusted third parties and advocates.

What are the reasons for a decline in trust?

Our Ipsos study shows two main contributing factors: the prevalence of fake news and doubts about media sources’ good intentions.

Fake news

At least in part, the public attribute the erosion of trust in the media to the upsurge in fake news. Globally, 52% perceive fake news to be prevalent in newspapers and magazines, and 52% also believe the same when it comes to TV and radio. Online news websites and platforms are viewed as particularly culpable of presenting fake news, with nearly two-thirds (62%) of consumers globally saying this is prevalent here.  The importance the British public attaches to the spread of fake news is demonstrated by the recent finding that three in four adults think it should be a criminal offence to spread fake news deliberately.

These findings are perhaps unsurprising given that “fake news” was the word of the year in 2017. There have been myriad examples of fake news stories in recent times, exacerbated by the speed at which these spread via social media. See 'Reputation resilience in the age of ‘fake news’ for how fake news has had a negative impact on Metro Bank, following the dissemination of misinformation about its safety deposit boxes, resulting in swarms of customers withdrawing their money.

Doubts about the good intentions of media sources

Another factor that has contributed to a decline in trust is doubts about media source’s good intentions. Only half (50%) of people think newspapers and magazines act with good intentions, and similarly 52% believe the same for TV and radio. This story is alike for online news websites and platforms, with about half (49%) also holding this view. Overall half of consumers do not say there are good intentions among these media sources. Trust drops for people known predominantly through the internet, with only 39% of people feeling they act with good intentions when it comes to sharing news and information.

Which sources of information do people trust and how can corporations capitalise on this?

Proximity to people matters. People continue to be most trusting of those they know personally. Around seven-in-ten people (72%) globally trust people they know in person as a reliable source of news and information. Over the past five years, trust in this source has grown more than it has receded, with 27% saying they trust it more compared to 14% trusting it less. These findings emphasise the importance of factoring in where the source of information has come from for consumers when exploring their levels of trust in corporations. How they think about organisations is the product of not only what they heard, but who and where they heard it from.

Corporations need to carefully consider where they advertise and publish information about themselves. Furthermore, the findings highlight how crucial it is to retain advocates of corporations and brands, whose praise and recommendation to those they know personally is likely to be far more influential than the media. Finding ways to encourage advocates to be outspoken about corporations and brands remains vital, whether that is through conferences, face-to-face conversations or through social media platforms.

This was highlighted in the findings from the Ipsos Reputation Council, where there was strong agreement from its members that employees acting as ambassadors and advocates is hugely important in building corporate reputation. They also emphasised the continuing role of the CEO, formal spokespeople and third-party endorsers - such as loyal customers. In these times of distrust in media, news from a known source is as important as ever.

Additional Information

Findings are based on an Ipsos online survey conducted between January 25th and February 8th, 2019. The survey was conducted in 27 countries around the world, via the Ipsos Online Panel system. The results are comprised of an international sample of 19,541 adults, aged 16-74 in most countries. Approximately 1000+ individuals participated in a country by country basis via the Ipsos Online Panel in 10 of the countries and 500+ individuals participated in 17 of the countries.

15 of the 27 countries surveyed online generate nationally representative samples in their countries. The remainder produce a national sample that is more urban and educated and with higher incomes than their fellow citizens. We refer to these respondents as “Upper Deck Consumer Citizens”. They are not nationally representative of their country.

The author(s)
  • Lauren Bridges Ipsos Public Affairs, UK

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