Interrogating the Collapse of Media Trust: A Comparative Perspective and Multilevel Explanation

TitleInterrogating the Collapse of Media Trust: A Comparative Perspective and Multilevel Explanation
Publication TypeConference Paper
Author(s)Hanitzsch, T.
Affiliation (1st Author)LMU Munich
Section or WGMediated Communication, Public Opinion and Society Section
DateWed 26 June
Slot CodeMCPW4a
Slot Code (Keyword)MCPW4a
Time of Session16:00-17:30
Session TitleTrust and miss-trust in the media from various aspects
Submission ID6320

Scholars have noted startling signs of declining public trust in the media. In most parts of the Western world, it seems, the dramatic collapse of faith in the press is pushing journalism to the margins of public debate. After the evaporation of public trust in political actors, along with a growing sense of political cynicism, we now seem to witness a collapse of public confidence in journalism’s capacity to act in the public interest. This paper aims to interrogate these observations from a comparative perspective and seeks to identify the principal factors that shape trust in the press around the world. Three major theoretical frameworks are guiding this analysis: (1) Institutional theories argue that trust is a consequence of institutional performance. In this framework, it could be argued that the decline in media trust is an effect of journalistic misconduct inadequate reporting. (2) Cultural theories hypothesize that institutional trust is an extension of interpersonal trust; it is learned early in life and projected onto public institutions. (3) Neo-institutionalist theories suggest the the media is essentially a political institution. In this perspective, one could reason that trust in the media got caught in a constant decline of political trust, or that the waning media trust is a symptom of an overall decay of institutional trust in modern societies. The paper will put these assumptions to test, using data from the World Values Survey. In the first part, we will trace trust levels in various countries over time in order to see if the thesis of a dramatic loss in media trust holds true around the world. The second part will be devoted to the identification of the central factors that account for different trust levels. In this step, we will draw on representative audience surveys from 50 countries, collected between 2004 and 2007. The overall 59,007 cases were subjected to multilevel regression that allows to model determinants of media trust across the individual and country levels simultaneously. The results call into question assumptions of a universal decline in media trust. In the large majority of countries for which time series were available, trust in the press has actually remained fairly stable over time. Among the western countries, confidence in the media has most substantially dropped in Australia, Canada, Great Britain, Italy, and the United States – most of which fall into Hallin and Mancini’s (2004) liberal model of media systems. At the same time, trust in the press has in fact increased in a non-trivial number of countries. The multilevel analysis revealed that major determinants of media trust are levels of democracy at the societal level, and political trust, media exposure, interpersonal trust, satisfaction with government and age on the individual level. The results let us conclude that public confidence in the media has developed differently depending on national contextual factors. Furthermore, with regards to the explanation of media trust we found support for all three theoretical frameworks: the permormance thesis, the interpersonal trust explanation, and the neo-institutionalist perspective.

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