Polls fuel debate over trust in the media
By Guy Dresser
LONDON (Reuters) – Journalists do not traditionally enjoy a high place in the public esteem, but a new survey has prompted some commentators to suggest that a difference is emerging between attitudes towards print and broadcast media.
Just 16 percent of British adults trust journalists to tell the truth, a study by opinion pollsters Mori found last year.
The figure was even lower than the 20 percent scored by politicians and left journalists at the bottom of the scale, according to Julia Clark, a senior research executive with the polling company.
“We ask what profession people trust most to tell the truth and we have run this survey for several years,” she told Reuters.
“The figures move up and down but the overall trend is unchanged. Journalists as a group remain at the bottom, along with estate agents and used car salesmen.”
Despite Mori’s apparently downbeat findings for journalists in general, television news readers emerge as people that the public would trust to tell the truth.
Of the 2,000 adults questioned, 63 percent gave them the thumbs up, putting them just behind scientists (70 percent), priests (73), judges (76), professors (77), teachers (88) and doctors (91).
Mori’s findings on broadcast media last year are echoed by the annual media literacy report from UK communications regulator Ofcom on April 26.
It found that 78 percent of adults trust television news providers, 76 percent trust radio news and 63 percent trust news Web sites.
The figure for newspapers is 46 per cent.
Justin Lewis, professor of communication at the Cardiff School of Journalism, believes old stereotypes could be to blame.
“When people are asked the question about how far they trust journalists, the image they have is of the foot in the door, the cheque book, the sleaze, the probing into people’s private lives,” he told Reuters.
“But if you ask them about News at Ten it’s different.”
Another academic, Professor Adrian Monck, head of journalism and publishing at City University in London, believes that different regulatory regimes could be responsible.
“The issue of trust is one of those hilarious polling issues but what is it really telling us about journalism? The fact is that in both surveys the figures are higher for the broadcast media than they are for print.
“My inference is that the broadcast media are benefiting from the fact that people know they have to get it right because they, unlike newspapers, are regulated.
“I have argued in the past that it would be useful for the print media in the UK to think about being regulated in the same way as the broadcast media.
“My argument is that if Sky News can manage it with Adam Boulton, then the Times can manage it with their political people,’ Monck said.
Journalists themselves sometimes admit to having a jaundiced view of colleagues.
Investigative journalist Donal Macintyre says that featuring on the gossip pages of tabloid newspapers as well as in front of the camera has given him a different perspective.
“I think it is sad that the public has a view like this of journalists, but it’s not surprising. I distrust about 70 percent of the media.
“Being on the cusp of working as an investigative journalist and crossing the boundary into the world of celebrity, I see what people write about me.
“Sure, in proper publications and on the BBC and Sky News, people understand that journalists are doing their best, but it’s the tabloids people distrust,” he added.
“I think cynicism is deliberately focused here on the lighter end of the media and the audience is right — much of what you read is nonsense.
“Most of the profiles written about me can’t even spell my name right, let alone get other facts down correctly.”