What you need to know:
- The report, which also sought to highlight the impact of Covid-19 on the print media and advertising, indicates the pandemic has made them focus on strategies for subscription, membership and donations, adding that there had been a significant increase in payment for online news.
- Most of the subscriptions are for digital-only packages, though combined print/digital bundles are still popular on some markets.
- In countries with higher levels of payment such as the US and Norway, between a third and more than half of all subscriptions go to just a few big national brands.
A new survey on digital news trends says local politicians are the top source of misinformation.
The Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2020 tells of rising concern about misinformation online and on social media, with most people holding local politicians responsible, rather than activists, journalists or foreign governments.
The survey – based on data collected in 40 countries including Kenya and South Africa – was conducted in January and early February before the Covid-19 outbreak. It also draws from studies updated in April, at the height of the lockdown in many countries across the world.
The report says global trends towards digital, mobile and paid media continue to grow, accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic.
It confirms a causal shift towards a more digital, more mobile, and more platform-dominated media environment, with evidence that some distinctive and premium news publishers continue to record growth in their subscriptions.
The politicians are more widely blamed in Brazil, the Philippines, the United States and South Africa.
This comes alongside a trend where in some countries, including the US, people who identify themselves as right-wing are more likely to blame the media as part of dynamics leading to picking sides.
It notes recent sentiments by Presidents Donald Trump and President Jair Messias Bolsonaro (Brazil) on whether news media or platforms like Facebook or Twitter should block inaccurate or dubious statements by politicians.
But across countries, the survey data shows most people (52 per cent) agree that news media should report these politicians’ statements prominently because “it is important for the public to know what the politician said”, rather than not highlight the politician’s statement (29 per cent) .
This implies that people prefer to decide for themselves rather than be told what to think by a reporter.
But the report notes that global concerns about misinformation still remain high.
Even before the height of the pandemic, more than half of the respondents (56 per cent) said they were concerned about the veracity of information on the internet, especially news.
“When it comes to the spread of false information through online channels, respondents in most countries were most concerned about Facebook (29 per cent) compared with other networks like YouTube (6 per cent) and Twitter (5 per cent),” the report says.
However, it adds that in parts of the global south, including Brazil, Mexico, Malaysia and Chile, people are more concerned about closed messaging apps like WhatsApp, which is particularly worrisome because the false information tends to be less visible and hence harder to counter in private and encrypted networks.
Mr Richard Fletcher, a senior research fellow at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism and one of the authors of the report, notes the public is more cautious when it comes to political advertising through social media.
He says that in most countries, most people want technology companies to block advertisements by political parties, which might be inaccurate. He adds that such firms have a responsibility to ensure information on their platform is accurate.
“Platform companies may not want to have to decide what’s true – many politicians may not want them to either – but it seems much of the public seems to have no principled opposition to the companies taking on this role, at least for political advertising,” says Mr Fletcher.
That said, Kenyan news audiences remain some of the most trusting, with 50 per cent of respondents saying they trust most news, most of the time.
The dynamic commercial television networks draw big audiences for news and are highly trusted, although public broadcaster KBC is trusted less, with tabloid newspapers being the least trusted according to the survey.
Kenya ranks sixth out of the 40 countries in news trust levels.
The report, which also sought to highlight the impact of Covid-19 on the print media and advertising, indicates the pandemic has made them focus on strategies for subscription, membership and donations, adding that there had been a significant increase in payment for online news.
Most of the subscriptions are for digital-only packages, though combined print/digital bundles are still popular on some markets.
In countries with higher levels of payment such as the US and Norway, between a third and more than half of all subscriptions go to just a few big national brands.
The most important factor for subscribers is the distinctiveness and quality of the content, followed by convenience and price.
The purpose or political alignment of a publication is also a key factor for some, especially in the United States. Additionally, local newspapers and their websites are valued much more in some countries than others.
“We see clear evidence that distinct, premium news publishers are able to convince a growing number of people to pay for quality news online. But most people are not paying for online news, and given the abundance of freely available alternatives, it is not clear why they would. In such a competitive market, only truly outstanding journalism can convince people to pay,” says The report’s co-editor, Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, says there is evident that distinct premium news publishers can convince a growing number of people to pay for quality onine news. who is also the director of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism and Professor of Political Communication at the University of Oxford.