News

In these times, Britons trust Beeb best

By Jameela Oberman on July 17, 2008 6:46 pm

SIX OUT OF 10 Britons feel the BBC is the most trustworthy news source. Still.

Despite the Crowngate and Blue Peter scandals earlier this year, 61 per cent of respondents to a March 2008 online survey said they trusted Beeb journalists “a great deal or a fair amount”, ahead of ITV, Channel 4 and up-market reporters, and way ahead of red-top and mid-market newspapers.

That is the good news. The bad news is the BBC has fallen from grace in the last five years.

The British Journalism Review-YouGov poll, which had 1,328 adult respondents, found 20 per cent less people trusted the BBC now than they did in 2003. Then, 81 per cent of the population had said they believed in the Beeb.

This trend is not limited to the BBC. The whole of British journalism has taken a tumble: ITV and Channel 4 are trusted by only 51 per cent (against the 81 and 80 per cent of 2003, respectively), up-market and local journalists by 43 and 40 per cent (down from 65 and 60 per cent, respectively), mid-market papers by 18 per cent (down from 36 per cent), and red-top scribes by 10 per cent (down from 16 per cent).

Though the BBC rates better than senior police officers (but below local police officers and schoolteachers and family doctors, mind), and ITV fares better than the local MP, trade union leaders and ministers in the current government, that is no cause for celebration.

“What ought to worry all journalists is the massive slide in trust, relative to other organisations or groups, since this question was first asked 5 years ago,” writes Professor Steven Barnett, who analysed the survey findings in a BJR paper titled On the road to self-destruction (2008: 19; 5).

The only comfort from the findings is that tabloid journalists are not at the bottom of the pile anymore. They now have the dubious consolation of being the second-least trusted, with estate agents faring the worst among the 23 professions compared.

Up-market and local journalists are among the top nine on the trust scale, though mid-market scribes have not done well. They are only a notch higher than their red-top counterparts, below NHS managers, ‘people who run large companies’, senior council officials, Labour government ministers and senior Whitehall civil servants, in that order.

There is a sliver of silver lining for the broadcast media in all this. People trust television more than they do the news in ink — BBC, ITV and Channel 4 are among the top nine, while the print journalists are ranked further down the ladder.

Discussing the many reasons for the “crumbling faith in British journalism”, Barnatt writes: “Just as one man-biting-dog story provokes a flurry of canine-biting tales, so exposés of ‘failing’ journalism have become fashionable.”

He feels the media might be adding to the widespread scepticism by exaggerating – at times even inventing – examples of media misconduct.

“Good journalism makes a difference to the kind of society we live in, and to distrust it is eventually to destroy it,” he writes. “That’s why trust matters, and that’s why we should all be worried by the findings of this survey.”

Jameela Oberman can be reached at jameela.interjunction@googlemail.com.

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