Trust in the news has fallen in many countries, with Argentina, Brazil, Spain, the UK, and the USA showing the biggest declines, stated the 'Digital News Report 2022', published by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism (RISJ).
India, on the other hand, has registered a small increase in news trust, thus improving its overall position, the report said, with 41 percent of respondents saying that they trust news overall.
India's position has jumped to the 20th spot among the 46 countries surveyed; an improvement from last year's 31st rank, when only 38 percent of the respondents from India said that they trusted news overall.
The Times of India scored the highest in terms of brand trustworthiness, at 75 percent, closely followed by All India Radio (72 percent) while The Print (61 percent), Republic TV (57 percent), and The Wire (57 percent) scored the lowest.
While the report said that print and news broadcast platforms are self-regulated in India, it notes that several television channels are "infamous for sensationalising news and conducting polarised debates."
Legacy Media Facing Competition From Digital Brands
According to the report, there has been a changing pattern in the consumption of news in India with online media being the source of news for an overwhelming 84 percent of the respondents. Comparatively, print media and TV news were preferred by 49 percent and 59 percent of the respondents, respectively.
Legacy media platforms are also facing stiff competition from digital-born brands that pursue independent journalism, many of which rely on non-profit revenue models, such as grants and reader donations to supplement advertisements, the report said.
A total of 2,035 people, mainly English-speaking, online news users in India – a small subset of a larger, more diverse, media market, were surveyed in India for this analysis.
Hence, the findings cannot be taken to be nationally representative.
"Indian media are diverse with numerous outlets operating in English and multiple regional languages. The sector has been hard hit by the pandemic, with falling advertising revenues and widespread journalistic layoffs," the report said.
However, in the post-pandemic period, print media reported a growth in revenue by 20 percent in 2021, which included a strong bump from advertisements.
As per the report, television brands like NDTV, India Today, and BBC News are the most popular offline brands, along with national newspapers like The Times of India, Hindustan Times, and The Hindu.
Among digital brands, the report says that The Quint "aims to build community partnerships through its citizen journalism initiatives and fact-checking services, in addition to regular news."
Growing Influence of Technology in News Consumption
India's digital news market saw an overall growth of 29 percent in 2021, while advertising and subscription revenues also grew at 29 percent each.
Emphasising the growing influence of technology in the country, the report asserted that India is a strongly mobile-focused market, with 72 percent accessing news through their smartphones, and 35 percent accessing it through computers.
However, the report cautions that the popularity of social media remains a concern owing to the fact that it is rife with misinformation as well as incessant trolling and abuse.
"Independent reporting suggests such behaviour is sometimes coordinated by actors close to major political parties," the report added.
Curbs on Press Freedom
The report highlighted the abysmal status of press freedom in India, which is ranked 150th in the World Press Freedom Index 2022, eight places below that obtained in the previous year.
The report also spoke of several issues that have harmed press freedom in India over the last few years.
"The independent Kashmir Press Club was forcibly taken over in January by members allegedly close to the local administration in the presence of armed police – a move the Editors Guild of India described as part of 'the continuing trend to smother press freedom'," it said.
It further highlighted the new accreditation rules introduced for journalists by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, which state that accreditation to a journalist or an organisation can be suspended if their work is deemed to harm the larger interests and sovereignty of the nation.
"In a move to address concerns of the right to privacy and freedom of expression of its citizens, the Supreme Court of India set up a committee to probe allegations of the use of Pegasus spyware on journalists, activists, students, and civil society members in the country," the report added.
Meanwhile, 36 percent of respondents believe that Indian media is free from "undue political influence" and only 35 percent believe it is free from "undue business influence," the study found.
Key Global Findings
A total of 46 countries, accounting for more than half of the world's population, were studied by Reuters Institute to understand the reach and impact of the media in different countries, and to compare media markets.
"Our focus is on countries which are either broadly democratic or generally compare themselves to countries with a democratic tradition," said Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, the director of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism.
The report also highlighted several key global trends on issues like news trust, paying for news, news avoidance, and different age-based sources for news consumption.
On news avoidance: The report found declining interest in the news as well as a growth in active news avoidance among certain groups. The percentage of people who avoid the news selectively has gone up in the face of depressing news agenda (COVID-19, the rise of inflation, the war in Ukraine).
Across the global sample population, 38 percent said they often or sometimes avoid the news – up from 29 percent in 2017. Avoiders have doubled in Brazil and the United Kingdom in the last five years.
On younger audiences: People under 25 have been switching allegiance away from Facebook towards visual networks like Instagram and TikTok, where entertainment and influencers play a larger role.
Across all countries, 40 percent of those aged between 18 and 24 use TikTok every week, with 15 percent saying they use it for news.
On trust: Trust in news has fallen in almost half the countries in the survey and risen in just seven. On average, 42 percent say they trust most news, most of the time.
Finland remains the country with the highest levels of overall trust in news (69 percent), while the United States has the lowest score (26 percent) along with Slovakia.
On paying for news: Despite significant increases in the respondents paying for online news in a handful of wealthier countries such as Australia, Germany, and Sweden, there are signs that overall growth may be levelling off. Across 20 countries, 17 percent paid for any online news, the same figure as last year.