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Latest Reuters Institute survey shows further decline in news trust

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    A woman wearing a face mask uses her phone on London Bridge in March 2020. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

Information inequality in the UK widens as the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown continues.  The latest survery by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism explores a crisis in communications.

The latest survey by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism (RISJ) at the University of Oxford shows that trust in the news reporting on the subject of COVID-19; the pandemic and the response to it has declined further. As COVID-19 rippled through the UK, the RISJ has conducted a series of ongoing online panel surveys of a representative sample of the UK population, augmented with data on news supply from the most popular UK news outlets.

The surveys initially show a ‘rally around the news’ effect, especially early on in the crisis, as people came together around widely used and broadly trusted news media, just as people initially rallied around the UK government, turned to it for information about the coronavirus, trusted it, and generally said they felt the government was doing a good job of responding to the pandemic..

But, the initial rally around the UK government quickly evaporated, as fewer and fewer turned to the government for information, trust declined rapidly, many across the political spectrum began to question its handling of the crisis, and a significant minority began to express concern over what they saw as potentially false or misleading information about coronavirus coming from the government itself.

The rally around the news has in some ways held up slightly better. News use is still higher than during pre-crisis levels, and the BBC in particular is widely used as a source of news about COVID-19, both offline and online. But trust in news has eroded too, leaving it on a par with the government. Also, inequalities in COVID-19 news use and differences in news use by age, gender, education, and income have in many cases increased over time (though inequality in news use around coronavirus is still in many cases lower than inequality in news use overall was before the crisis).

For example, gaps in news use by age have grown. Levels of news use are high, but a 12 percentage points (pp) gap between the proportion of 18–54s and over-55s who used COVID-19 news at least once a day or more on average had doubled to 24pp by the end of June (75% vs. 51%), as news use fell more sharply within the younger age group.Differences by gender have also grown. At the start of the epidemic, large and roughly equal proportions of both men (78%) and women (79%) were accessing COVID-19 news at least once a day on average. However, an 8pp gap had emerged slowly by late June, with women less likely to regularly access COVID-19 news than men.

Starting in April 2020, this ongoing, revealing survey, in part fielded online by YouGov, was designed by RISJ to collect data on how people navigate news and information during the coronavirus pandemic.

Read the full report here