Thursday, 23 September 2010


The results of a new survey on public trust make grim reading for the newspapers, particularly the tabloids.

YouGov asked 1,854 adults 'how much do you trust the following to tell the truth?' with a number of different professions listed - politicians, doctors, journalists, police and others.

Compared to results from 2003, trust in the media has declined significantly across the board.

Here are the results:

BBC News journalists
Total trust: 60% (81% in 2003)
Total not much/no trust: 34%

ITV News journalists
Total trust: 49% (82% in 2003)
Total not much/no trust: 43%

Journalists on 'upmarket' newspapers
Total trust: 41% (65% in 2003)
Total not much/no trust: 51%

Journalists on 'mid-market' newspapers (Mail, Express)
Total trust: 21% (36% in 2003)
Total not much/no trust: 71%

Journalists on 'red-top tabloid' newspapers
Total trust: 10% (14% in 2003)
Total not much/no trust: 83%

Of the 25 professions listed, BBC came 6th, the mid-market newspapers 15th and the red-top tabloids 25th. Last. Behind estate agents and, amusingly, EU officials.

The results aren't a one-off. An Ofcom survey in May 2010 showed newspapers were the least trusted source for news. The Committee for Standards in Public Life's 2008 Report showed TV news journalists - trusted by 46% of people - far ahead of broadsheet (36%) and tabloid (10%) journalists.

It is hard not to conclude that the broadcast regulator Ofcom (with its power to fine for serious breaches of its Code) does a far better job of maintaining standards - and therefore trust - than the PCC (with its power to allow newspapers to bury two sentence 'clarifications').

As Minority Thought points out, it was only in July that Mail Editor Paul Dacre was happily telling us all that:

They [critics] will probably never concede the truth, which is that the PCC has over the years been a great success story. Britain's newspapers are infinitely better behaved than they were two decades ago. Yes, the industry can do more to improve standards. We will rise to our challenge.

The public doesn't seem to be able to see them rising to the challenge and don't seem in awe of this great improvement in behaviour. That's why the number of people who trust tabloid journalists a 'great deal' is, err, 1%. That's why the number of people who have a 'great deal' of trust in journalists on the so-called 'mid-market' papers (like the one Dacre edits) is, err, 1%.

Anyone would think Dacre had some vested interest in plunging his head in the sand and pretending everything is fine.

It would, however, have been great to see Dacre's reaction to the fact that news journalists from the BBC, that organisation he seems to have such an irrational hatred of, are trusted far more - far, far more - than journalists on his paper.

(via Roy Greenslade and Minority Thought)


  1. Fascinating stuff. Now the question will be how will the papers and media cover the story? (just will of course be ignored).

  2. "105" here (as the percentage of the public who trust tabloid hacks) should read "10%", fairly obviously ("5" being on the same key as "%").

    This is an instructive survey which reveals precisely how crudely the press and media generally abuse their power (the decline in trust of ITV News hacks is a shocker and reveals precisely how much that broadcaster has surrendered any claims to objectivity and become little more than a NuTory propaganda station). The decline in trust of the ex-broadsheets also reveals precisely how much they have betrayed themselves and the nation since market economics (the real reason for this decline; those who no longer trust journalists yet still regard our neoliberal system as unquestionable should take a long look at themselves) overtook even them to the extent that they now go after a mythical, non-existent audience and think their natural readership can go hang.

    btw, in a lengthy apologia for the Mail's celebrity obsession this week, Peter Hitchens opines that "you can't do anything about" people wanting to read about such human detritus, "that's the way it is", &c, &c, &c. Funny how some hacks will make every excuse imaginable for the erosion of the world they love if it comes from the deregulated market, which it would be against their religion to criticise, yet blame "egalitarianism" and "socialism" (that's a laugh) wholly for destroying it when in fact they have done one millionth of the damage ...

  3. I'm suspicious of the results, because if people don't trust the papers, why do they continue to buy them? Anecdotally I believe that people who read these articles regularly without a deliberately critical eye (i.e. most people who just want something to read over breakfast) tend to believe the article's bias. Yet these are from sources they might say they don't trust very much?

    Worrying that people don't place more importance on being told the truth.

  4. Interesting post, and thanks for bringing this to my attention.

    I actually have the Committee on standard's report open on my desk at the minute, and one of the interesting questions asked about the media is on p.62 of the report - looking at specific attitudes towards tabloids and broadsheets. People don't think tabloids are fair, they don't really think they help the public learn about politics, they look for any excuse to tarnish the names of politicians. It's not happy reading.

    The comment by 'mathw' asks why people still buy them if they don't trust them. I wondered about the same thing. One thing that I think is part of it is that they buy them for all different reasons. If you buy The Sun for page 3, it doesn't really matter what you think of their political coverage. Maybe most people want news which is 'good enough', but with loads of celebrity gossip?

    Finally - and just because what you said agrees with what I already think - I just wanted to comment on the line:

    "Ofcom (with its power to fine for serious breaches of its Code) does a far better job of maintaining standards - and therefore trust - than the PCC"

    This is exactly right. High standards (and especially perceived probity) generate trust. I recently gave a paper at the EPOP conference on essentially this issue (though about political public life rather than the media), and the results of my analysis strongly suggest this 'standards --> trust' interpretation ( ).

  5. Joe and Mathw - It's a good point. Why are the papers that sell most copies every day the least trusted? It does seem curious. It would be interesting to know if there was any research on this anywhere.

    Joe - thanks for your other very interesting comments.

  6. "Worrying that people don't place more importance on being told the truth."

    What worries me is that even though we know we are being lied to, I hope we dont find that generally people will pick and choose the bits they want to believe. Someone might feel they are being lied to about a celebrity story, but then will happily consume scaremongering about minorities and immigration.
    So I don't take too much solace from the fact that the public think they know when they are being lied to.
    The newspapers campaigns of misinformation and hate are still feeding a growing putrid underbelly of our society that will reach a critical mass at some point.

  7. So the number of hopelessly gullible people in Britain has fallen from 13% to 10% since 2003. That's good news, isn't it?

  8. The old axiom of "paper never refused ink" springs to mind. As has already been stated, if so few people believe a red-top, why do so many people buy them? What's more worrying, is that if so many people believe the information which they consume to be fallacious, why do they still cast moral aspersions based on said information?

    A paper can write what it wants (as much as such an idea pains me): it is the job of the public to ignore them. Who is worse: a journalist who writes for the Daily Mail or a person who reads the Daily Mail? I'm always more disappointed in the latter.

  9. With regards the question as to why people continue to buy the papers, surely it reflects the simple level of content. If the tabloids (red tops) pretended to cover news in anything other than a desultory fashion i.e. offering some level of scope rather than questionable "top line" the readership would probably fall. The trust would probably not rise. The fact is that people don't buy the red tops for news, but for many other reasons. Some as a cheap daily distraction; an inherent basic interest in "gossip" rather than "hard news", human interest stories that won't trouble too many; many cite the reason "for a laugh"; others like the reinforcement of their personal world view by the polemics of the columnists, legitimasing some of their prejudices as having backing rather than being seen as not acceptable. And of course, for many sports news, basic reporting and match scores and horse racing info as well as those wanting a cheap TV guide or perhaps for the celebrity froth interviews (a yearning and aspiration) and so on and so forth.

    Other mid-markets may have more "news" but they also have a lot of other stuff. One reason the Mail is so popular with women is the sheer volume and scale of female orientated stories.

    None of those reasons requires or necessitates an element of trust if it is simply a conduit for information. The gossip / human interest stories do not need trust in the same way we hear something juicy we don't need to trust it but find ourselves repeating it.

    And look at the readership of the NotW, slaes of some 3m and a readership of 10m. Often seen purchased alongside a broadsheet. Are they buying it for the news? Unlikely but the vicarious thrill of sexual shenanigans and celebrity wrongdoing i.e. "I read it for a laugh" - no trust required.

    So perhaps more info and research required into cross checking what people get from papers. I think more worrying is the decline in trust for the likes of the BBC given the position it finds itself in this fall must be disconcerting when attacked from all sides.

    In respect of the PCC, the reality is, it is a hopelessly out of touch, self-interested, pointless body that fails to enforce their own code, is stuffed full of people who can bring influence and favour and avoid censure whilst time-after-time proving that self-regulation has failed. Why would anyone trust a system that simply does not work and a splash with page after page of nonsense and filler which ultimately doesn't stand up to scrutiny secures a page 67 apology of a paragraph weeks or months later.

    I strongly believe that an independent body that can enforce like-for-like apologies in terms of prominence and position, act in a matter of days not weeks, take pro-active steps rather acting reactively and impose financial penalties would not be the death of journalism nor of investigative journalism. It would stop pointless celebrity stories, may push for better news, more robust investigations and a better determination of public interest and would also increase trust.

  10. Sorry, too many words here. Where is the gossip about Kim Kardashian?

    (end sarcasm)

    Good article MacGuffin! And easily some of the best comments I've read, especially Peter and Joe!


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