Newspaper readership has dropped so much over the past 20-30 years that in the world today only one person out of five frequently reads papers or magazines. The primary source of information is still television, followed by social networks. From the advent of the internet up to now, more than any other news source, these platforms are the biggest destabilizers of traditional media.
Thesem findings emerged from the recent Ipsos report: Trust misplaced? A report on the future of trust in media. To some extent, all this may not be surprising: the decades-long decline of newspapers and magazines has been exacerbated by new methods for information consumption, with digital channels and free news sources coming to the fore. Another contributing factor is the pandemic, which has benefitted social networks both in terms of advertising revenues and access to news content.
Yet the Ipsos report is a wide-angle look at a much more radical problem, as the title suggests: people’s (lost?) trust in the media in 29 countries around the globe. This issue directly calls into question the fundamental values in the world of journalism, such as truthfulness, the quality and the value of news (to include economic value), independence from power centers, and trustworthy news sources. In this sense, the report focuses particular attention on two main aspects of the news: fake news and willingness to pay for access to quality information.
An important part of media literacy these days is being able to tell what’s true and what’s not. The report reveals that the people interviewed are roughly twice as confident in their own ability to distinguish between fake news and real news, as they are in their neighbor’s ability to do the same (59% vs 30%). But the authors of the report point out that these beliefs may be subject to the Dunning-Kruger effect, a cognitive bias which leads people to overestimate their abilities. In any case, the people of Peru, Turkey and Saudi Arabia are the most confident they can spot fake news (with figures topping 70%), while the Chinese and Indians have the least faith in their fellow citizens in their ability to do so. Data from Italy are in line with the world average: 57% say they can tell the difference between information that is true or false, and 26% don’t think that their neighbors can do the same.
The question of fake news also has a strong political bias in the perceptions of interviewees. In the US, Turkey, the UK and India there are many (58%, 57%, 55% and 55% respectively) who believe that their country is subject to disinformation campaigns propagated by foreign countries. The least worried are the Hungarians, the Malaysians and the Japanese. In Europe, we find the highest level of concern in Sweden (56%) and Italy (54%), but also very high in Italy is the percentage of people who have no opinion on the matter (40% of respondents). Other European countries like Germany, France, Belgium, and Spain seem to be less preoccupied by the risk of exposure to fake news from outside sources. (The percentages here are consistently below the global average at 42%, 39%, 38% and 43% respectively.)
The vast majority of respondents (83%) say they make sure the news that they read, watch or listen to comes from a trustworthy source (but here too the Dunning-Kruger effect is strong). With the single exception of Brazil, in the block of South American countries (Colombia, Chile, Peru and Argentina) the percentages are highest (96%, 94%, 93% and 91%), while the most self-critical are the Japanese and South Koreans (63% and 64%). Among European countries, in Italy people seem to be most careful in checking information sources (85%), followed by Spain, Poland and Germany (83%, 78% and 77%).
Lastly, at a global level, 67% of interviewees say that they only read news that they can access for free, while just 27% are willing to pay. Hungarians, Russians, and Argentinians are the people who most often get their information for free. (The percentages are 79%, 79% and 76% respectively). In contrast, the Chinese, Malaysians, and South Africans are most willing to pay. (In all three of these countries the numbers are over half.) Italy, along with other European countries such as France, Belgium, Spain and Poland, is on par with the world average, while in Germany the tendency to pay for news is most engrained (42%).