Bad Journalism: Crises of Trust in the UK Media

Posted on: April 11, 2012

How much do you trust professional journalists to tell the truth? 2011’s PBS Trust Report revealed that just 1 in 4 people (24%) thought UK media organisations were accurate in their reporting.

With the recent phone hacking scandal and the damage to News Corp‘s reputation still in the public mindset, audiences are doubting the ethical standards of journalists while the likely demise of the offline newspaper industry inches closer. The majority of the public (58%) agreed that they further lost trust in the news following the allegations of underhanded practices and the unfolding Levison enquiry, according to the PBS Report.

But the most surprising statistic of all from the findings last autumn were that 3 in 4 people (74%) agree that media outlets in the UK lie to their audiences frequently. Of course, it’s no revelation that news organisations are often driven by sensationalist reports, political bias and corporate interests. Perhaps audiences are becoming more sceptical – or depending on which way you look at it, just more aware – of ‘bad journalism’.

Sensationalism in the Daily Express: March 27th’s paper tells us of strike chaos ahead, where March 30th’s tells us to calm down.

Tabloid Watch is an excellent website highlighting the lies, mistakes, exaggerations, ethical issues and general blunders in the UK press by “blogging about bad journalism” as it says itself. Several themes on Tabloid Watch came to my attention and I was shocked at just how appalling some editorial standards appeared to be in national titles, particularly those belonging to the Daily Mail.

The Mail’s online counterpart, MailOnline, became the single most visited news website in the world in January 2012. With an average of 45.3 million unique visitors per month, the site overtook The New York Times. Spearheaded by celebrity gossip, large visuals and headlines with shock value,  the organisation has progressively become more tabloid entertainment orientated but seen enormous online audiences – perhaps by leading with what could be described as ‘share-able stories’ (such as the recent viral sensation Samantha Brick).

It may come as no surprise that as little as 1 in 10 (10%) said they trusted tabloid newspapers in YouGov‘s 2010 poll. Yet evidently, their diminishing influence as a trustworthy source does not seem to be impacting what audiences read.

As Tabloid Watch investigates, on regular notable occasions the Daily Mail misrepresents facts and does not research thoroughly enough, if at all. Just last month it ran an article claiming over two-thirds of young Muslims in Britain believe honour violence is acceptable. In fact, the study referred to shows that this amount was just 6% and the survey was on young Asians, not just Muslims. (See below for the original headline on the right & the corrected headline on the left after it was changed).



It is also common for tabloids to use a single celebrity tweet to create an entire news story, many of which are found to be fabricated and taken out of context. It seems in the online environment of accessible information, some ‘professional’ journalists  are cutting corners with the fact checking and sensationalising at every opportunity they have to entice volumes of audiences for profitable gain. The 55% of audiences surveyed in the PSB Report that claimed UK media content had dumbed down in recent years would certainly agree.

On February 6th 2012 the Daily Mail Editor in Chief Paul Dacre told the Levison enquiry:

“I’m very proud of the Mail Online…it’s evolving and clearly everything can improve, but I think to come from a cold start to being the world’s number newspaper internet site is an achievement that British journalism should be proud of.”

The very idea that the Daily Mail is flying the flag for quality British journalism  is enough to make every award-winning writer or investigatory journalist shudder. While I do not doubt that the organisation harbours some talented writers, it is astonishing how slack their editorial standards have become.

As nearly 1 in 5 (17%) UK adults say they will be less likely to use newspapers by the end of 2012, it seems an industry with dwindling future prospects needs to work harder to uphold public trust if it is to survive.

(For full details of the PSB Trust Report visit http://labs.yougov.co.uk/news/2011/11/14/trust-media/)


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