Media trust – a comparative perspective

This comparative study tests which factors are related to trust in the media. Trust in the media is important not only for news organizations but also for society at large. Based on survey data from 13 countries, this study shows that trust in the media tends to go hand in hand with people’s news consumption. Trust increases with a higher use of different news types, especially public service broadcasting. A higher trust also is closely related with people’s willingness to pay for journalistic content.

Trust in the media is shaped by different factors, which the study tests with a regression analysis of survey data from 13 countries collected in the large-scale project for the Reuters Digital News Report 2016 (fög is the Swiss partner of this international research network).

For media trust, factors on the macro-level (e.g. media systems) play a role as well as socio-demographic factors (e.g. age) and how and which news outlets people use. On the macro-level, in groups of countries with specific media systems in general and in Switzerland in particular, people’s trust in the media is significantly higher.

Diagram 1
Diagram 1
Diagram 1: Factors promoting and undermining trust in the media system

The diagram shows the B regression coefficients from a linear regression analysis in relation to the target variable of trust in the media system. Trust in the media system takes the form of an index consisting of five elements of trust: trust in news, media organisations, journalists, and both the political and financial independence of the media. Significant effects are marked with an * (p < 0.05) (source: Reuters Digital News Report 2016; data for 13 countries used for this comparison n = 20,811).

On the individual level, apart from socio-demographic factors and people’s self-positioning in the political spectrum (left vs. right), our study shows that news use and trust are closely linked. Those who regularly use traditional information media are developing a greater trust in the media system. Conversely, trust is lost when the ritualized use of news breaks away.

Diagram 2
Diagram 2
Diagram 2: Effects of trust in the media system

The diagram shows the effects of trust in the media system on target variables relevant to economic considerations involving the media. The significant Pearson correlation coefficients (p < 0.05) depicted are a measure of the effects of trust in the media system (source: Reuters Digital News Report 2016; data for 13 countries used for this comparison n = 20,811).

Furthermore, people who use public service broadcasting news more frequently have more trust in the media system. At the same time, a positive media system trust increases users’ willingness to pay for news as well as the willingness to accept advertising, e.g. on news platforms. Given that (high-quality) journalism cannot survive without having enough financial resources, one implication of this study therefore is to find ways to foster trust in the media and point out the value of public service broadcasting, also in economic terms, both for the overall media system (including private media) and society.

Especially in Switzerland, where a public referendum on the abolishment of the license fee model for public service broadcasting will be held in the near future, this debate becomes highly important.

Authors: Mario Schranz, Jörg Schneider, Mark Eisenegger

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