Confronting the media’s crisis of trust – Some candid thoughts

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Maria Ressa

By Syed Ali Mujtaba

Lack of trust in the news media is the news these days. The reasons are; rampant misinformation, the rise of authoritarian governments, the dominance of social media, etc. are adding to the lack of trust in the news media. To discuss these issues, experts gathered in Honolulu at the recent East-West Center International Media Conference. Here I am putting up a summary of the different thoughts by the panelists to make the subject easy to grasp.

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Nobel Peace Prize recipient and conference keynote speaker Maria Ressa said those who think that producing high-quality journalism would increase public trust may be wrong because in India reliable news organizations receive low trust scores. She suggested that journalists, who probe deeply and confront the powerful, tend to draw attacks which then lower their public standing. One has to acknowledge that trustworthiness, while necessary, is not a sufficient condition for public trust, she said.

Another panelist held the view that people don’t trust the news media because they find their own source of information and that may include irresponsible outlets. The job at hand is to develop strategies to discredit such irresponsible outlets. The information manipulators know they can break into the public discussion through the media, so the need is how to bust technology that is used for misinformation and disinformation.

“Exposing the sources of misinformation and disinformation is one part of the battle, more than that the need is to understand the demand side because if we don’t understand why people consume misinformation there will be little appreciation for quality journalism.”

“Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of great mitigation strategies but journalists who successfully counter a manipulator’s narrative are liked,” said another panelist, adding, “journalists must not be just the curator or cultivator of facts, rather they should confront the threat to the society seeking to build trust in news and information they give.”

“The other fact is many people distrust journalists and this also is a factor negatively affecting media credibility. Probably this is because media has gone beyond the control of the media professionals and restoring news media trust is a daunting task. Journalists have to increase their credibility with their audience so that people do not go to other sources looking for news.

The 2022 Reuters Institute Digital News Report says, last year saw a bump in media trust but that’s attributed to the coverage of COVID-19, news consumption has since then dropped in many countries and media trust is widely declined.

A recent trust survey by Edelman ranked the media trust as the lowest in its “trust barometer” and said, it is continuing to decline since 2020. Edelman’s survey made a comparison of media with governments, businesses, and non-governmental organizations to make such observations.

The Edelman survey claims that where the government is closely tied to the media in one form or another and when a government becomes distrusted so does the media, whereas when a government enjoys high trust, then the media does as well. So where trust in government has been falling, there is a fall in media trust.

There is needed to drive public demand for trustworthy news to help journalism continue to play an absolutely vital role in sustaining public life and protecting our democracies.

Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He is the recipient of the Jefferson fellowship in 2003 by the East-West Center Honolulu, Hawaii. He can be contacted at syedalimujtaba2007@gmail.com

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