Skip to ContentGo to accessibility pageKeyboard shortcuts menu
OpenStax Logo
Introduction to Political Science

12.5 Declining Global Trust in the Media

Introduction to Political Science12.5 Declining Global Trust in the Media

Menu
Table of contents
  1. Preface
  2. Introduction to Political Science
    1. 1 What Is Politics and What Is Political Science?
      1. Introduction
      2. 1.1 Defining Politics: Who Gets What, When, Where, How, and Why?
      3. 1.2 Public Policy, Public Interest, and Power
      4. 1.3 Political Science: The Systematic Study of Politics
      5. 1.4 Normative Political Science
      6. 1.5 Empirical Political Science
      7. 1.6 Individuals, Groups, Institutions, and International Relations
      8. Summary
      9. Key Terms
      10. Review Questions
      11. Suggested Readings
  3. Individuals
    1. 2 Political Behavior Is Human Behavior
      1. Introduction
      2. 2.1 What Goals Should We Seek in Politics?
      3. 2.2 Why Do Humans Make the Political Choices That They Do?
      4. 2.3 Human Behavior Is Partially Predictable
      5. 2.4 The Importance of Context for Political Decisions
      6. Summary
      7. Key Terms
      8. Review Questions
      9. Suggested Readings
    2. 3 Political Ideology
      1. Introduction
      2. 3.1 The Classical Origins of Western Political Ideologies
      3. 3.2 The Laws of Nature and the Social Contract
      4. 3.3 The Development of Varieties of Liberalism
      5. 3.4 Nationalism, Communism, Fascism, and Authoritarianism
      6. 3.5 Contemporary Democratic Liberalism
      7. 3.6 Contemporary Ideologies Further to the Political Left
      8. 3.7 Contemporary Ideologies Further to the Political Right
      9. 3.8 Political Ideologies That Reject Political Ideology: Scientific Socialism, Burkeanism, and Religious Extremism
      10. Summary
      11. Key Terms
      12. Review Questions
      13. Suggested Readings
    3. 4 Civil Liberties
      1. Introduction
      2. 4.1 The Freedom of the Individual
      3. 4.2 Constitutions and Individual Liberties
      4. 4.3 The Right to Privacy, Self-Determination, and the Freedom of Ideas
      5. 4.4 Freedom of Movement
      6. 4.5 The Rights of the Accused
      7. 4.6 The Right to a Healthy Environment
      8. Summary
      9. Key Terms
      10. Review Questions
      11. Suggested Readings
    4. 5 Political Participation and Public Opinion
      1. Introduction
      2. 5.1 What Is Political Participation?
      3. 5.2 What Limits Voter Participation in the United States?
      4. 5.3 How Do Individuals Participate Other Than Voting?
      5. 5.4 What Is Public Opinion and Where Does It Come From?
      6. 5.5 How Do We Measure Public Opinion?
      7. 5.6 Why Is Public Opinion Important?
      8. Summary
      9. Key Terms
      10. Review Questions
      11. Suggested Readings
  4. Groups
    1. 6 The Fundamentals of Group Political Activity
      1. Introduction
      2. 6.1 Political Socialization: The Ways People Become Political
      3. 6.2 Political Culture: How People Express Their Political Identity
      4. 6.3 Collective Dilemmas: Making Group Decisions
      5. 6.4 Collective Action Problems: The Problem of Incentives
      6. 6.5 Resolving Collective Action Problems
      7. Summary
      8. Key Terms
      9. Review Questions
      10. Suggested Readings
    2. 7 Civil Rights
      1. Introduction
      2. 7.1 Civil Rights and Constitutionalism
      3. 7.2 Political Culture and Majority-Minority Relations
      4. 7.3 Civil Rights Abuses
      5. 7.4 Civil Rights Movements
      6. 7.5 How Do Governments Bring About Civil Rights Change?
      7. Summary
      8. Key Terms
      9. Review Questions
      10. Suggested Readings
    3. 8 Interest Groups, Political Parties, and Elections
      1. Introduction
      2. 8.1 What Is an Interest Group?
      3. 8.2 What Are the Pros and Cons of Interest Groups?
      4. 8.3 Political Parties
      5. 8.4 What Are the Limits of Parties?
      6. 8.5 What Are Elections and Who Participates?
      7. 8.6 How Do People Participate in Elections?
      8. Summary
      9. Key Terms
      10. Review Questions
      11. Suggested Readings
  5. Institutions
    1. 9 Legislatures
      1. Introduction
      2. 9.1 What Do Legislatures Do?
      3. 9.2 What Is the Difference between Parliamentary and Presidential Systems?
      4. 9.3 What Is the Difference between Unicameral and Bicameral Systems?
      5. 9.4 The Decline of Legislative Influence
      6. Summary
      7. Key Terms
      8. Review Questions
      9. Suggested Readings
    2. 10 Executives, Cabinets, and Bureaucracies
      1. Introduction
      2. 10.1 Democracies: Parliamentary, Presidential, and Semi-Presidential Regimes
      3. 10.2 The Executive in Presidential Regimes
      4. 10.3 The Executive in Parliamentary Regimes
      5. 10.4 Advantages, Disadvantages, and Challenges of Presidential and Parliamentary Regimes
      6. 10.5 Semi-Presidential Regimes
      7. 10.6 How Do Cabinets Function in Presidential and Parliamentary Regimes?
      8. 10.7 What Are the Purpose and Function of Bureaucracies?
      9. Summary
      10. Key Terms
      11. Review Questions
      12. Suggested Readings
    3. 11 Courts and Law
      1. Introduction
      2. 11.1 What Is the Judiciary?
      3. 11.2 How Does the Judiciary Take Action?
      4. 11.3 Types of Legal Systems around the World
      5. 11.4 Criminal versus Civil Laws
      6. 11.5 Due Process and Judicial Fairness
      7. 11.6 Judicial Review versus Executive Sovereignty
      8. Summary
      9. Key Terms
      10. Review Questions
      11. Suggested Readings
    4. 12 The Media
      1. Introduction
      2. 12.1 The Media as a Political Institution: Why Does It Matter?
      3. 12.2 Types of Media and the Changing Media Landscape
      4. 12.3 How Do Media and Elections Interact?
      5. 12.4 The Internet and Social Media
      6. 12.5 Declining Global Trust in the Media
      7. Summary
      8. Key Terms
      9. Review Questions
      10. Suggested Readings
  6. States and International Relations
    1. 13 Governing Regimes
      1. Introduction
      2. 13.1 Contemporary Government Regimes: Power, Legitimacy, and Authority
      3. 13.2 Categorizing Contemporary Regimes
      4. 13.3 Recent Trends: Illiberal Representative Regimes
      5. Summary
      6. Key Terms
      7. Review Questions
      8. Suggested Readings
    2. 14 International Relations
      1. Introduction
      2. 14.1 What Is Power, and How Do We Measure It?
      3. 14.2 Understanding the Different Types of Actors in the International System
      4. 14.3 Sovereignty and Anarchy
      5. 14.4 Using Levels of Analysis to Understand Conflict
      6. 14.5 The Realist Worldview
      7. 14.6 The Liberal and Social Worldview
      8. 14.7 Critical Worldviews
      9. Summary
      10. Key Terms
      11. Review Questions
      12. Suggested Readings
    3. 15 International Law and International Organizations
      1. Introduction
      2. 15.1 The Problem of Global Governance
      3. 15.2 International Law
      4. 15.3 The United Nations and Global Intergovernmental Organizations (IGOs)
      5. 15.4 How Do Regional IGOs Contribute to Global Governance?
      6. 15.5 Non-state Actors: Nongovernmental Organizations (NGOs)
      7. 15.6 Non-state Actors beyond NGOs
      8. Summary
      9. Key Terms
      10. Review Questions
      11. Suggested Readings
    4. 16 International Political Economy
      1. Introduction
      2. 16.1 The Origins of International Political Economy
      3. 16.2 The Advent of the Liberal Economy
      4. 16.3 The Bretton Woods Institutions
      5. 16.4 The Post–Cold War Period and Modernization Theory
      6. 16.5 From the 1990s to the 2020s: Current Issues in IPE
      7. 16.6 Considering Poverty, Inequality, and the Environmental Crisis
      8. Summary
      9. Key Terms
      10. Review Questions
      11. Suggested Readings
  7. References
  8. Index

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Detail levels of trust in the media in the US and around the world.
  • Discuss why levels of trust in the media have steadily declined.
  • Explain why we should care about levels of trust in the media.
  • Explain what possible reforms can increase trust in the media.

Every time a newspaper dies, even a bad one, the country moves a little closer to authoritarianism.

—Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist, Richard Kluger

The beginning of this chapter discussed how the press safeguards people’s rights and keeps democracy healthy. Authoritarian regimes such as North Korea do not allow freedom of the press because they know that an informed citizenry is a powerful one. Despite the inherent importance of the media, levels of trust in the institution are precariously low both in the United States and globally. This section will examine levels of trust in the media and the causes of mistrust, then go on to examine possible reforms.

Do People Trust the Media?

In order for the media to fulfill its goals as a gatekeeper and purveyor of information, there needs to be trust in the institution. So why do some countries trust the media more than others? A study of 44 countries found that factors such as higher levels of political interest, interpersonal trust, and exposure to television news and newspapers are positively correlated with trust in media, while education and exposure to news on the Internet are negatively associated with levels of trust in the media. The same study showed that ownership also affects levels of trust: state ownership of television is positively associated with trust in media in democratic societies and negatively associated with trust in media in nondemocratic societies.137 Other reports have found that levels of democracy and media freedom are not necessarily correlated with trust in the media. Evaluations of the economy also have been suggested as a factor in people’s trust in the media.138

A 2019 Gallup report on global trust in the media noted that the percentage of respondents who expressed at least some trust in journalists ranged from a low of 12 percent in Greece to a high of 93 percent in Uzbekistan.139 Most people around the globe trust people they know personally over people they know through online exchanges, and there appears to be a healthy skepticism of online news and content in general.

Some question whether increased political polarization has contributed to lower levels of trust in the media. Given the apparent causal relationship between political polarization and online echo chambers, perhaps the relationship between trust in the media and political polarization is more analogous to the well-worn question about which came first, the chicken or the egg. Wilfred Laurier University professor Anne Wilson, PhD candidate Victoria Parker, and University of Toronto professor Matthew Feinberg describe this as a polarization feedback loop, in which increasing polarization among political elites and the media “selectively amplif[ies] the worst the other side has to offer” and ultimately feeds into mistrust of the media and polarization of the electorate.140 The schism is particularly apparent in the United States, where political partisanship is evident not only across many policy issues but also when it comes to trust in the media.

Show Me the Data

A bar chart shows that the percentage of Republicans trusting mass media has gone down from just over 40% in the year 2000 to about 10% in 2020. In 2000 Republicans distrusted the media only slightly more than Democrats and Independents did. In 2020, Independents trusted the media about three times as much as Republicans did, and Democrats trusted the media about seven times as much as Republicans did.
Figure 12.16 Republicans’ trust in the media decreased significantly between 2000 and 2020. (souce: Gallup; attribution: Copyright Rice University, OpenStax, under CC BY 4.0 license)

When looking at a more detailed breakdown of who doesn’t trust the media, the polling website FiveThirtyEight notes that Republicans in the United States have built on their long-held belief that the media has a liberal bias to incorporate an “anti-media” stance into their overall ideology.141 In 2018, nine in 10 Republicans said they had “personally . . . lost trust in the news media in recent years.”142 As people’s choices in media content have increased, it is not surprising that both Republicans and Democrats have sought out news sources that reinforce their political beliefs, and the Internet has made this especially easy. Additionally, conservatives are more likely to surround themselves with like-minded views online, while liberals are more likely to block friends who do not agree with them on social media.143 This self-imposed exposure to partisan media ultimately reduces people’s overall trust in the mainstream press, regardless of party.144

Why Should We Care about Trust in the Media, and How Can We Increase It?

An informed citizenry is a precondition for democracy, and in order for citizens to act collectively and cast votes in their best interests, people should be able to rely on the media as a source of unbiased information. Without a foundation of trust in the media, people will find their information elsewhere. While one cannot assume that all voters will make an effort to make educated choices, the ability to develop informed decisions makes trust in the media a crucial first step. As former United States congressman Lee H. Hamilton writes, “The truth is that for our democracy to work, it needs not just an engaged citizenry, but an informed one.”145 The public’s habits and their trust have moved in lockstep with one another, and as people have walled themselves off from news they do not believe in, their trust in institutional media has fallen, as has their ability to remain informed. The decline of trust in both governmental and media institutions has real consequences. The erosion of trust in public institutions damages the credibility of those institutions, further undermining their effectiveness and perpetuating a vicious circle.146

What can be done to restore trust in the media as an institution? Organizations in the United States and around the world have proposed numerous strategies for supporting media institutions and promoting trust. The Knight Foundation points out that a majority of respondents in a 2020 survey believed that it is possible to raise levels of trust in the media, and in pursuit of that goal, the foundation makes two substantial suggestions for the media: official corrections (that is, admitting to errors and publicly correcting them) and increased representation.147 Respondents indicated that when the media issues official corrections, this increases rather than decreases trust, suggesting that transparency is key to raising trust levels. With regard to representation, readers appear to want more representation in newsrooms, with journalists who look like them and more closely reflect their communities.

NPR’s public editor suggests that the lack of trust also stems from content quality. “Cable networks . . . prioritized talking heads148 over reporting. Print media . . . conflated opinion, analysis, and straight reporting.”149 In response to this, the Trust Project, which partners with 200 news outlets across 12 countries, works with media organizations to incorporate what it calls “the 8 Trust Indicators”150 in order to facilitate improved news quality and increase reader trust.151 Addressing the issue of media concentration may also encourage higher-quality content and promote a closer relationship with readers and viewers, thus contributing to engendering trust.

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the world’s largest intergovernmental organization dedicated to security, elections, human rights, and press freedom (among other concerns), makes a number of recommendations for improving both content quality and people’s trust in the media. The OSCE advises European governments to

  • tackle the problem of media concentration by reducing certain taxes for newspaper companies;
  • develop guidelines for editorial independence from corporate owners;
  • strengthen intellectual property and bargaining rights for journalists; and
  • provide “sufficient” salaries for journalists.

Further, the OSCE encourages nations to monitor these recommendations.152 In the United States, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) could reverse rules that loosened restrictions on mergers, though as some point out, this would not necessarily prevent smaller media outlets from dying off. One novel suggestion is to require a transaction fee for each merger, with the proceeds going to fund local journalism, especially because it appears that trust is fostered when readers feel that the media outlets they use are tied to their communities.153

Where Can I Engage?

Help Stop the Spread of Misinformation

To combat misinformation online, organizations such as First Draft work globally with journalists to root out misinformation and provide reporters with resources and information to create the most informed content possible and build trust with audiences.154 The website hosts a free library of training content, including online courses, tool kits, and resources designed to help both journalists and the public build expertise and stay ahead of misinformation. Everyone has the ability to stop misinformation, and by educating yourself on how to stay alert to the spread of false news, you help promote a healthier media.

Do you know how you learn best?
Kinetic by OpenStax offers access to innovative study tools designed to help you maximize your learning potential.
Order a print copy

As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases.

Citation/Attribution

Want to cite, share, or modify this book? This book uses the Creative Commons Attribution License and you must attribute OpenStax.

Attribution information
  • If you are redistributing all or part of this book in a print format, then you must include on every physical page the following attribution:
    Access for free at https://openstax.org/books/introduction-political-science/pages/1-introduction
  • If you are redistributing all or part of this book in a digital format, then you must include on every digital page view the following attribution:
    Access for free at https://openstax.org/books/introduction-political-science/pages/1-introduction
Citation information

© May 20, 2022 OpenStax. Textbook content produced by OpenStax is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License . The OpenStax name, OpenStax logo, OpenStax book covers, OpenStax CNX name, and OpenStax CNX logo are not subject to the Creative Commons license and may not be reproduced without the prior and express written consent of Rice University.