Report finds people increasingly distrust media, avoid news out of fatigue

Some TV reporters and journalists covering the convoy protests in Ottawa in February were abused and harassed by anti-vaccine protesters.BRETT GUNDLOCK/The New York Times News Service

A study on public perception of the news industry found that more people are avoiding the news and that the anti-vaccine mandate blockade in Ottawa this year highlighted a declining trust in the media.

The report by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism found that only 42 per cent of Canadians surveyed trusted the news, compared with 58 per cent in 2018. However, that figure was higher than in the United States, where only 26 per cent of respondents said they generally trusted the news.

“Large numbers of people see the media as subject to undue political influence, and only a small minority believe most news organizations put what’s best for society ahead of their own commercial interest,” wrote Reuters Institute director Rasmus Kleis Nielsen in the report, which is based on an online survey of 93,432 people, conducted in 46 markets.

Our new national disgrace: harassing TV journalists

Around the world, the study found that people were avoiding the news because it had a negative affect on their mood, made them feel worn out, and focused too much on politics and COVID-19.

In Britain, 46 per cent of people surveyed said they selectively avoided the news, compared with 24 per cent in 2017. In Australia, that response jumped to 41 per cent from 30 per cent in 2017. The increase was more moderate in the US, where 42 per cent were avoiding the news compared with 38 per cent in 2017.

Lisa Kimmel, chair and chief executive officer of Edelman Canada, a marketing consultancy firm that has routinely surveyed public trust in the media, said that the blockade protests across Canada in February and the ensuing harassment of journalists was partly a result of the declining trust in the media, alongside governments and businesses.

The episode saw protesters block downtown Ottawa streets for a month as they called for pandemic safety measures to be lifted. Reporters were intimidated and attacked while covering the blockade; the Reuters Institute noted that CTV News even opted to remove its logo from its vehicles as a protection measure .

The Reuters Institute study said the treatment of reporters at the protest was an “extreme expression” of the overall distrust in the media.

Edelman’s own survey released earlier this year found that 61 per cent of Canadians believed that journalists were purposely trying to mislead people. A similar number of respondents also thought the government and business leaders were trying to mislead people.

A police officer keeps watch as a person, left, screams at a journalist doing a television report at a rally against COVID-19 restrictions on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Jan. 30.Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

Ms. Kimmel suggested one way to work on winning people’s trust back is to prioritize solutions-based reporting, as well as journalism that better explains world events readers may struggle to understand.

“The opportunity I believe exists for media … is to help provide context for the world that we’re living in and all of its complexities,” Ms. Kimmel said.

“I don’t think there’s enough of that today.”

Despite the declines in trust, media outlets are doing better financially than in past years, largely because of government support and increased ad revenue during the pandemic, the Reuters Institute study said.

It pointed out that Montreal-based newspaper La Presse posted a surplus of $14-million recently, and that media organizations such as the Toronto Star and Postmedia are investing in local journalism while also exploring new ways to collaborate with other outlets.

The study found that CTV News was the most trusted English outlet in Canada, with 62 per cent of respondents trusting the organization. Local or regional newspapers were trusted by 60 per cent, and The Globe and Mail was the fifth-most trusted organization at 53 per cent.

The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism is funded by the philanthropic arm of Thomson Reuters; the company also owns The Globe and Mail.

With a report from Reuters

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