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Rebuilding trust

The media is not trusted as much as it needs to be. The solution is simple but it will mean breaking some bad habits.

By James Evelegh

Rebuilding trust

The latest Edelman Trust Barometer, released in November, makes sobering reading for those of us who believe that the media can and should be a force for good.

Amongst its findings:

  • ‘Media’ is seen as less competent and less ethical than ‘NGOs’ and ‘Business’ (although more so than ‘Government’)
  • 64% (which is up three percentage points on last year) think that journalists and reporters are purposely trying to mislead people by saying things they know are false or gross exaggerations
  • a minority (47%) of respondents trust journalists to tell the truth about new innovations and technologies
  • trust in the ‘Media’ in the UK is the lowest of the 28 countries surveyed, at 31%

Respondents were taken from a range of countries, including China where the media is state controlled and, of course, ‘media’ encompasses all media, not just newspapers and magazines.

But these findings are in line with other research, including last year’s ‘UK in the World Values Survey’ run by King’s College London, which found that of 24 countries, only people in Egypt (8%) have less confidence in the press than the UK (13%).

The causes of this distrust are manifold and include scepticism about the motivation of sections of the media (whose interests do they really have at heart, their readers’ or their proprietor’s or special interest groups’?), a tendency by some to only hold to account those who they are negatively disposed to, highly selective reporting to support undisclosed agendas, a lack of consistency where behaviour considered beyond the pale in some is blithely ignored in others and, in some important areas, a lack of expertise.

For an in-depth look at the underlying causes of this mistrust, James O’Brien’s ‘How they broke Britain’ is worth a read. For examples of inconsistent and partisan reporting, look no further than Liz Gerard’s forensic analysis of the press in her fortnightly ‘Notebook’ which we run in our InPubWeekly newsletter.

The tragedy is that the poor practices of some overshadows the great work of the many – everyone gets tarred with the same brush.

The impact is considerable. Ultimately, institutions that are not trusted wither and die, so practices that diminish trust in the media are not good for business in the long term. From a broader perspective, a weakened and diminished media will be less able to do the good work society needs it to do.

What can the media do to remedy the situation? It’s pretty simple really, although for some, it will involve breaking some bad habits. Be honest, ethical, objective, consistent, thorough and transparent, all the time.

A pretty good place to start would be to adopt (really adopt, not just say you’re going to adopt) the National Union of Journalists’ Code of Conduct. Do that and watch the trust levels start to rise.

This article was first published in InPublishing magazine. If you would like to be added to the free mailing list to receive the magazine, please register here.