Thursday, May 04, 2006

"Trust in Media" survey adds to data that no firms dominate U.S. news media

The “Trust in Media” survey conducted by the BBC, Reuters and the Media Center released today has something in it for almost anyone. It found that the media were trusted a bit more than governments, Fox News was the most trusted news source in the U.S. Al Jazeera most trusted in the Middle East and the BBC (surprise?) most trusted globally. Blogs, says the report, are the least trusted form of news, with 25% of respondents finding them trustworthy. (Actually I find that surprisingly high, as by their very nature blogs are much like op-ed columns, expected to have a point of view).

But if you only read the headline and the executive summary you miss out on much of the nuance of the survey. From where I sit, it is yet another data point (see many others in my media competition study), that the media in this country is more diverse and competitive than anywhere else on the globe.

Here’s my analysis.

Although the headline says that Fox News, by a fraction over CNN, is the most trusted source in America, that turns out to be a plurality of only 11%. The third most trusted source, ABC News, was named only by 4%. That is, the other 74% split their answers among dozens of others. Unlike the U.K. or Germany, newspapers are predominantly local, so large numbers of people no doubt identified their local newspaper as their source, fragmenting the cited sources.

The table, culled from the survey’s report, shows the considerable disparity in American media versus several other nations. Among the 10 nations surveyed, only India had a profile similar to the U.S, where the most oft cited source (AAJ TAK) was also as low as 11%,

Most trusted specific news sources mentioned spontaneously
Source: Compiled from BBC/Reuters/Media Center Poll: Trust in the Media

One could interpret these finding several ways. A cynic might say that no American provider instills much trust. In the U.S., local newspapers were considered slightly more trustworthy (mentioned by 81%) than national television (75%). But overall, the media in the U.S. get higher trust scores than in the U.K. or Brazil, and about the same as Germany. In the U.K., television news is trusted by only 55% of those surveyed, but that is almost three times as much trust as in newspapers (19%). In Brazil, national newspapers and television are viewed about equally, though overall lower than in the U.S. (about 68%). Germans have the highest trust component, with public radio, television and newspapers all cited by about four-fifths of respondents.

Conclusion: If one is worried about the “power” of individual media owners or programmers, then the “Trust in Media” survey should help ease such concerns. In the UK one third of the audience believes in the government-controlled BBC. In Brazil, privately held Rede Globo holds the faith of over half the population. In the U.S., trust is fragmented. It is a positive sign for diversity of content that there are no dominate, pervasive sources of news and information, public or private.

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