Least Trusting of News Are Those Who Are Indifferent, Disengaged: Reuters Study

Unlike the UK or US, most people in India believe journalists should disclose their political affiliation.

5 min read
Hindi Female

A recently published news report by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, which examined trust in news, found that the people who are the least trusting are not those who are most vocally hostile but instead more indifferent and disengaged.

The report, which was authored by Benjamin Toff, Sumitra Badrinathan, Camila Mont’Alverne, Amy Ross Arguedas, Richard Fletcher, and Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, is based on survey data of 2,000 respondents each from four countries: Brazil, United States, United Kingdom, and India.

“Those who most lack trust in news are often the least knowledgeable about journalism, disengaged from how it is practised, and the least interested in the editorial decisions publishers and editors make every day. They are often less opinionated about journalism and less likely to say they care about how news works,” read a press statement.

“Our research shows that those who most consistently lack trust in news are often those who are also least well-equipped to differentiate between brands and less interested in doing so. The untrusting default to scepticism, even cynicism, about news sources generally and hold a dim view about how most journalists do their jobs."
Dr Benjamin Toff

Key Highlights of the Report

  • People are more trusting of news they themselves consume, including social media, but less trusting of news outlets they don’t, especially on digital platforms.

  • Many hold negative views about basic journalistic practices.

  • The least trusting demographic is older, less educated, less interested in politics, and less connected to urban spaces.

  • Experience in interacting with journalists is rare and knowledge of basic journalism and news practices is low.

  • Unlike in the UK or US, majority of people in India believe journalists should disclose their political affiliation.

  • Gaps in trust in news align with a lack of social and interpersonal trust and dissatisfaction with democracy.

38 Percent of Indians Trust News ‘Completely’

The report found that majority of the people in all the four countries 'somewhat' trust information in news media. However, only a small percentage trust the news 'completely', except India where 38 percent say so.

It also found that India, in comparison to other countries, ranked higher in percentage of trust in news on most digital platforms. While 65 percent of people in India trusted news 'somewhat' or 'completely' on Facebook, only 35 percent said so in the US and only 29 percent in the UK.

The same goes for WhatsApp, where only 28 percent in the UK 'somewhat' or 'completely' trusted the information but in India, 57 percent said the same.

The report also found that India and Brazil rank the highest in percentage of people who viewed Google as the most trusted platform for news.


Identifying the ‘Generally Untrusting’ of News in India

For India, the 'generally untrusting' is a demographic profile of a person who is likely to be older in age, more likely male, less likely to be a general or upper caste and even less likely to be Hindu.

In terms of socio-economic background, the 'generally untrusting' tend to not have a college degree, are more often unemployed, or retired, or self-employed, or less likely to be employed in the private sector. The report also states that they are more likely to be from among lower-income households.

In terms of political affiliations, they are less likely to be affiliated with the BJP and view Prime Minister Narendra Modi unfavourably.

Trust in news, according to the report, also differs based on where people live. The generally trusting of news reside in metropolitan cities while the generally untrusting reside in villages or small towns.

About two-thirds of generally untrusting respondents in India (67 percent) also said that knowing about how news organisations make sourcing decisions is very or extremely important to them.

However, when it comes to disclosure about how news organisations are funded, the generally untrusting (62 percent) in India find it less important than the generally trusting (79 percent).

The report also examined whether the background of a journalist, such as their gender, religion, caste, and political identity or leaning, matter to people when deciding between news sources.

Transparency about the journalists' political leanings was found to be very or extremely important to 61 percent of the respondents in India whereas gender, religion, and caste was in the range of 32-33 percent.

However, the report points out that it is not just the generally untrusting, but the overall majority who are driving the percentage points on knowing the political leanings of journalists.

Meanwhile, when it comes to how news should be presented or what it should focus on, the generally untrusting 'somewhat' or strongly believe that news should be communicated in a way that is easy to understand and should highlight good things that happen in the world and not just bad news.


Partisanship to Trusting Specific News Brands

Political affiliation was another element used to calculate the trust in news in all the four countries.

In the US, the report found considerable partisan differences in the levels of trust towards news brands, in some cases, more than a double digit percentage difference between Democrats and Republicans. For example, in the case of CNN, 79 percent of Democrats trusted the outlet 'somewhat' or 'completely', compared to only 29 percent of Republicans.

A similar trend also exists in India, where Republic TV/Republic Bharat is trusted by 72 percent of people who identify as BJP supporters but only 50 percent of all others. On the other side of the board is NDTV, where trust in the brand was high across the board, with 85 percent of BJP supporters trusting the outlet 'somewhat' or completely and 81 percent of all other political affiliations.

The report found wide disparities between people who are generally trusting and generally untrusting of news in all the four countries.

It also found the people who lack trust in news also lack trust in other institutions. In India, 23 percent do not trust the press at all or very much and the same percentage is also reflected in trust in national, local, and state governments.


Unfamiliarity With Journalism Concepts Leads to Distrust

The report states that just under half the polled sample in India and more than 75 percent of respondents in the UK and the US have never met a journalist personally, been interviewed for a news story or contacted a journalist for feedback or sharing ideas.

When it comes to familiarity with journalistic terms like what breaking news means, 81 percent responded in the affirmative while 63 percent responded with a yes to knowing the difference between an editorial and a news story.

Majority respondents from all four countries said that they think that journalists 'sometimes' or 'rarely/never' verify their information with other sources. In India, only 31 percent said that journalists 'very often' verify facts.

Meanwhile, 55 percent respondents in India also feel that most news organisations try to cover up their mistakes and 37 percent believe that journalists very often get paid by their sources.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  Journalism 

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