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Why Is Trust In The Mainstream Media So Low?

According to some reports, public trust in the mainstream media is decreasing despite record audiences due to coronavirus keeping most of us inside in quarantine.

Surveys have painted a mixed message of the relationship between consumers and mainstream media (mainly news) organisations. Many different theories have been used to explain this slump.

Some believe that it’s due to journalist’s aggressive questioning and attitudes towards the government’s handling of the pandemic.

Others believe that it’s due to political affiliation and bias, as it makes sense that media companies with a political bias will be criticised by those who disagree more harshly than with whom they agree, further compounded by the stress caused by the effects of coronavirus.

Of course, there were different results between the kind of media in question. Newspapers and television audiences had similar but distinctly different results.

It’s also important to recognise that the results of trust in mainstream media as a whole was vastly different from the results of specific media organisations and journalists.

Despite this, other reports suggest that there has been no collapse in public trust in news media (with data taken from December 2019 to May 2020).

This should logically contradict other surveys that the trust has fallen. It should not make sense that both should coexist and maintain their respective validities, but that is the case.

The Facts

A report by the Guardian suggests that public trust in the British media and journalism is eroding, despite record viewership and consumption due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

A YouGov poll over over 1,500 people reported that two-thirds of the public do not trust TV journalists, whilst nearly 75% of the public do not trust newspaper journalists.

It is assumed by some commentators that this is down to the mainstream media’s questioning and attitudes towards the government’s handling of the pandemic, which is perceived to be aggressive at times.

It’s said that this is contributing to a distrust in the media, as many see it as a form of fear-mongering and division of the British public when the nation is in dire need of unity more than ever before in recent history.

Mark Austen, a Sky News evening presenter, said, “We never come out that well in polls, we’re never going to be up there with Mother Teresa.”

“A lot of the criticism I’ve seen online is about [the media] not supporting the government enough, missing the mood of the country, not making a positive contribution. But it isn’t a journalist’s job to support the government.”

Theories about the erosion of trust have also been attributed to political bias and affiliation, specific outlets being trusted less than others and a sort of mental fatigue from the seemingly never-ending coronavirus news and updates.

There is more at play here than just facts and figures. This is less of a trust issue and more of an ideological and cultural issue. Society is becoming increasingly polarised and divided on certain issues, and many mainstream companies seem to take sides.

Distrust in mainstream media is just a symptom of a wider issue. Many feel as if their views are not being represented enough in the public eye, which leads them to create theories as to who can be trusted or not, and why they can’t be trusted.

Among other media outlets many people believe the BBC in particular – which was created to be impartial – has been slowly becoming more and more bias towards left wing opinions. The lack of balance of opinions in news articles have slowly become prominent, and it raises concerns about transparency and impartiality.

BBC Newsnight presenter Emily Maitlis received heavy backlash for her perceived biased introduction on the Dominic Cummings controversy. Video credit: The Independent

The BBC is especially obligated to provide impartial journalism and information, as that was its original goal. The fact that it’s funded by TV license fees makes the bias all the more concerning and insulting to some viewers, as many feel they are paying for a service they don’t want or need.

It is a criminal offence to not pay a TV license, and so many are irked at the idea of being forced to pay for it when they feel the BBC does not represent their views.

There have been several calls to decriminalise non-payment of TV licenses, which forced the BBC to review its policies and give warning to its presenters.

There is no such thing as totally unbiased media, but the mainstream media simply does not seem to be representing the opinions and viewpoints of a huge portion of the public.

The creation of upcoming news channel GB News is a perfect demonstration of this. GB News has declared a “commitment to impartial journalism”, implying that many news networks are not impartial (or at least, not enough).

Distrust in certain media outlets is nothing new, but simply a reaction to the proportion of representation of certain ideas.

Distrust in the mainstream media is nothing new, it’s a tale as old as time. 

The rise of self proclaimed ‘journalists’ on social media has seen this feeling of distrust deepen. 

Twitter, Facebook and Instagram has given anybody anywhere the opportunity to act like a publisher, allowing them to voice their opinions on everything topical.

Confirmation bias runs rampant online, and for every protest on a BBC News presenter’s use of the N-Word, there are calls for the broadcasting giant to unshackle itself from left wing bias and political correctness.

Each of these issues are compounded by a talking head on your mobile phone who will come with ‘facts and figures’ to confirm your bias that the BBC is racist, or that they are silencing right wing ideals.

It can be hard to argue that representation of different viewpoints in mainstream media are being silenced when Laurence Fox has appeared on The Daily Mail and The Times.  

Many might argue they are right leaning publications but they are hardly hyperlocal news sites with minimal reach.

This is not to say the mainstream is absolved of any responsibility and is an impartial institution that grates people from both sides of the spectrum.

However, if it is understood that mainstream media will never be unbiased and impartial. Then it’s important to make sure that you as a reader seek out the different opinions.

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Aaron Fenton-Hewitt is an aspiring journalist and political commentator. He holds a Bachelor's degree in Film from London Metropolitan University, and a Master's in Writing for Creative and Professional Practice from Middlesex University. He wishes to continue his academic career, with a PhD in Politics or related field.

Aaron is also a freelance photographer, an avid foodie and an Arsenal supporter.

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Rami is a journalist from a small town in Greater Manchester called Leigh. He is a community reporter for the Manchester Evening News and has had his work featured in national papers.

Aaron Fenton-Hewitt and Rami Mwamba

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