Trust in media high, but critical attitudes growing

In an international comparison, trust in the news media among Finns is exceptionally high. At the same time, critical attitudes toward the independence and performance of the media have increased.

The findings are presented in the final report of the Emotions at Stake: Authority of the Media and Trust of the Audience project. The aim of the project, coordinated by the University of Helsinki, has been to produce new information on Finns’ views on the trustworthiness and authority of the media and journalism for the benefit of both professionals and researchers in the field. The results were compared with surveys conducted in 2007 and 2009.

Longitudinal comparisons demonstrated that trust in key national news media outlets among Finns has remained high. The news brands considered the most reliable, such as Yle News, the Helsingin Sanomat daily and the MTV Uutiset outlet, are clearly separated from tabloids and social media services, which are considered unreliable. Trust in social media and other web users as news sources has decreased even further.

Audiences believe media power has grown

Audiences believe that the media wield a lot of power in Finnish society, with the majority even considering that their power has recently grown. The media are found to have a great influence on both the political opinions of citizens and also political decisions. At the same time, views on the societal role and performance of the media and journalism have become increasingly critical.

“The largest decline is seen in how people see the media as having succeeded in promoting Finnish culture and solidarity. Trust in the independence of the media and their ability to monitor the use of public power has also diminished,” says Docent Janne Matikainen from the University of Helsinki.

Trust in the truthfulness of communication in decline

Finns’ trust in the responsibility of journalism has decreased, with the trust in the truthfulness of communication particularly poorer than in 2007. Furthermore, trust that facts are kept separate from opinions and fiction in journalism has also decreased.

“The significance of the transparency of journalistic processes in establishing trust was highlighted as a key finding also in audience and expert interviews conducted by project researchers,” Matikainen says.

Under the project, a survey on news related to the coronavirus pandemic was conducted. In May 2020, roughly 60 % of the respondents found the news media a generally reliable source of news concerning the coronavirus. Additionally, certain individual news media outlets were given considerably higher assessments. Alongside the news media, Finns demonstrated strong trust in experts and authorities as sources of information.

“In spite of the on-the-average high trust, a quarter of the respondents thought that news outlets had shared a fairly large or large amount of misleading information during the coronavirus crisis. In the dissemination of false information, the role of Facebook and online discussion forums was particularly highlighted,” Matikainen notes.

A diverse research dataset

The project findings are based on six different datasets, with the main set comprising the survey data collected in May 2019, the results of which were compared to two questionnaire and interview surveys conducted a little over a decade ago (in 2007 and 2009). The fourth survey dataset focused on audiences’ views of reporting about the coronavirus, collected in May 2020. The fifth dataset comprised four audience focus group interviews and 12 stakeholder interviews.

Furthermore, the project utilised media data to reflect on the survey results in relation to public discussion on the authority of the media and the trustworthiness of journalism. In each survey, the number of respondents was over 1,000. The results have been weighted to represent the population of mainland Finland between the ages of 18 and 79 according to age, gender and place of residence. The margin of error varies between 0.8 % and 2.9 %, depending on the specific result.

Funding for the project was provided by the Helsingin Sanomat Foundation.

More information about the project can be found here:
https://www.helsinki.fi/en/projects/authority-of-the-media-and-trust-of-....

Further information:
Janne Matikainen, docent, University of Helsinki, +358 50 317 5028, janne.matikainen@helsinki.fi
Markus Ojala, postdoctoral researcher, University of Helsinki, +358 50 302 8782, markus.ojala@helsinki.fi