Trust grows in news…

24 Jun,2021

 

The tenth edition of the Digital News Report by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism has just been released. It is based on data from six continents and 46 markets including India.

 

Here’s a summary of some of the most important findings from the 2021 research:

• Trust in the news has grown, on average, by six percentage points in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic – with 44% of our total sample saying they trust most news most of the time. This reverses, to some extent, recent falls in average trust – bringing levels back to those of 2018. Finland remains the country with the highest levels of overall trust (65%), and the USA now has the lowest levels (29%) in our survey.

• At the same time, trust in news from search and social has remained broadly stable. This means that the trust gap between the news in general and that found in aggregated environments has grown – with audiences seemingly placing a greater premium on accurate and reliable news sources.

• In a number of countries, especially those with strong and independent public service media, we have seen greater consumption of trusted news brands. The pattern is less clear outside Western Europe, in countries where the Coronavirus crisis has dominated the media agenda less, or where other political and social issues have played a bigger role.

• Television news has continued to perform strongly in some countries, but print newspapers have seen a further sharp decline almost everywhere as lockdowns impacted physical distribution, accelerating the shift towards mostly digital future.

• While many remain very engaged, we find signs that others are turning away from the news media and in some cases avoiding news altogether. Interest in news has fallen sharply in the United States following the election of President Biden – especially with right-leaning groups.

• Elsewhere, we find that the media are seen to be representing young people (especially young women), political partisans, and – at least in the US – people from minority ethnic groups less fairly. These findings will give added urgency to those who are arguing for more diverse and inclusive newsrooms.

• Despite more options to read and watch partisan news, the majority of our respondents (74%) say they still prefer news that reflects a range of views and lets them decide what to think. Most also think that news outlets should try to be neutral on every issue (66%), though some younger groups think that ‘impartiality’ may not be appropriate or desirable in some cases – for example, on social justice issues.

• The use of social media for news remains strong, especially with younger people and those with lower levels of education. Messaging apps like WhatsApp and Telegram have become especially popular in the Global South, creating most concern when it comes to spreading misinformation about Coronavirus.

• Global concerns about false and misleading information have edged slightly higher, this year, ranging from 82% in Brazil to just 37% in Germany. Those who use social media are more likely to say they have been exposed to misinformation about Coronavirus than non-users. Facebook is seen as the main channel for spreading false information almost everywhere but messaging apps like WhatsApp are seen as a bigger problem in parts of the Global South such as Brazil and Indonesia.

• Our data suggest that mainstream news brands and journalists attract most attention around news in both Facebook and Twitter but are eclipsed by influencers and alternative sources in networks like TikTok, Snapchat, and Instagram. TikTok now reaches a quarter (24%) of under-35s, with 7% using the platform for news – and a higher penetration in parts of Latin America and Asia.

• We have seen significant increases in payment for online news in a small number of richer Western countries, but the overall percentage of people paying for online news remains low. Across 20 countries where publishers have been pushing for more online payment, 17% have paid for any online news in the last year – up two percentage points. Norway continues to lead the way with 45% (+3) followed by Sweden (30%), the United States (21%), Finland (20%), the Netherlands (17%), and Switzerland (17%). There has been less progress in France (11%), Germany (9%), and the United Kingdom (8%).

• In most countries a large proportion of digital subscriptions go to just a few big national brands – reinforcing the winner takes most dynamics that we have reported in the past. But in the United States and Norway we do find that up to half of those paying are now taking out additional subscriptions – often to local or regional newspaper brands.

• More widely, though, we find that the value of traditional local and regional news media is increasingly confined to a small number of subjects such as local politics and crime. Other internet sites and search engines are considered best for a range of other local information including weather, housing, jobs, and ‘things to do’ that used to be part of what local news media bundled together.

• Access to news continues to become more distributed. Across all markets, just a quarter (25%) prefer to start their news journeys with a website or app. Those aged 18-24 (so-called Generation Z) have an even weaker connection with websites and apps and are almost twice as likely to prefer to access news via social media, aggregators, or mobile alerts.

• While mobile aggregators play a relatively small part in the media eco-system of Western countries, they have a powerful position in many Asian markets. In India, Indonesia, South Korea, and Thailand a range of human- and AI-powered apps like Daily Hunt, Smart News, Naver, and Line Today are playing an important new role in news discovery.

• More widely, the use of smartphone for news (73%) has grown at its fastest rate for many years, with dependence also growing through Coronavirus lockdowns. Use of laptop and desktop computers and tablets for news is stable or falling, while the penetration of smart speakers remains limited in most countries – especially for news.

• Growth in podcasts has slowed, in part due to the impact of restrictions on movement. This is despite some high-profile news launches and more investment via tech platforms. Our data show Spotify continuing to gain ground over Apple and Google podcasts in a number of countries and YouTube also benefiting from the popularity of video-based and hybrid podcasts.

 

Specifically, this is what the India report, written by Anjana Krishnan, Research Associate, Asian College of Journalism, Chennai notes:

Indian media are extremely diverse, with thousands of outlets operating in multiple languages. Much of the media is controlled by large, for-profit corporations, many of them privately held, and mainly funded by advertising. But these business models are being disrupted by a rapid shift to online consumption – and the impact of Covid-19.

 

Legacy print news brands, including the most popular in the survey – Times of India, Hindustan Times, and The Hindu – and newspapers in general, have borne the brunt of the slowdown. The pandemic has hit print circulation and decreased advertisements, leading companies to slash salaries, cut jobs, and close editions across the country due to the drastic decline in economic activity in one of the world’s strictest lockdowns. The industry has also had to cope with reduced government and commercial advertisement spending,107 which fell by more than half since the start of the pandemic. Leading news channel NDTV announced salary cuts for a time, while digital born-operator The Quint furloughed staff and was forced to close its planned TV division after three years’ unsuccessful attempts to get a broadcasting licence.

 

Despite the growing popularity of digital media with our surveyed audience, which tends to lean towards an urban and educated population, television remains the most popular source overall. India has altogether 392 news channels, dominated by regional language channels and private players. Broadcast television channels, like print media in India, are self-regulated and often have strong political affiliations and corporate ownership, with no regulations on cross-media ownership. A culture of 24×7 news channels operating on ‘breaking news’ models and polarised debates often distort and sensationalise news.

 

In October last year, news channels faced a credibility crisis as their Television Rating Points (TRPs) published by the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) came under scrutiny. Republic TV and two Marathi entertainment channels were accused by the Mumbai police of tampering with metering devices installed in selected sample households to boost their ratings. Despite these accusations, the considerable popularity enjoyed by Republic TV’s online and offline platforms – which have both increased considerably since our last survey in 2019 – perhaps indicate the growing popularity of right-wing ideology propagated by the ruling party in India.

 

India is one of the strongest mobile focused markets in our global survey, with 73% accessing news through smartphones and just 37% via computer. India has more than 600 million active internet users, many of whom access the internet only through mobile phones – aided by low data charges and cheap devices.

 

Among our respondents, WhatsApp, YouTube, and Facebook are widely used for news and there have been serious problems with misinformation and hate speech. Individual members of the ruling BJP and groups aligned with the party are alleged to systematically spread false and misleading information via social media and other platforms.108 In late 2020, Facebook India’s policy head resigned after accusations that the company deliberately took a lenient line on ruling party supporters who allegedly violated hate speech rules with anti-Muslim posts.109 In response, the number of independent fact-checking organisations has grown in recent years, with support from international tech companies and foundations, while mainstream media organisations have formed dedicated fact-checking and debunking teams.

 

With the growing popularity of online platforms, the Indian government has come up with controversial new proposals to expand the scope of existing legislation to social platforms, news websites, and Over the Top (OTT) content providers. In an apparent step to limit false and objectionable information on social media platforms, new guidelines expect platforms to trace the origin of information that can be misleading or objectionable based on an order from a court or competent authority. Authorities have on several occasions asked platform companies to block posts, including those by activists, journalists, and opposition politicians. DigiPub, a group of digital news organisations formed in 2020, says these rules go against the ‘fundamental principles of news’, giving control to the government to remove news content online. India has consistently slipped in the Press Freedom Index of Reporters Without Borders in the last few years, occupying 142nd position out of 180 countries.110 RSF’s 2021 report notes journalists in India face increasing violence, trolling, and threats of rape and death on social media, along with excessive use of sedition laws for criticism of the government or its policies. Freedom House changed India’s status from ‘free’ to a ‘partly free’ country earlier this year.

 

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