South Africa takes second place in global news trust rankings

South Africa has ranked second out of 46 countries in the Oxford-based Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism poll that depicts levels of trust in the media. 

The Mail & Guardian was ranked sixth among the most trusted news publications in South Africa, with 77% of participants indicating trust. 

The digital report — which surveyed 90 000 participants — was published by the institution on Wednesday. 

According to the report, news published by South African media outlets was trusted by 61% of the population, an increase from 49% in 2019. 

But, said the report, the “overall growth and high level (second out of 46) of trust in media in South Africa is mirrored in the individual brands surveyed, with a growth in trust in the majority of brands surveyed. This could indicate a growing polarisation, with audiences cleaving to the brands that map to their personal belief systems”.

The report found that “trust is increasingly the currency foregrounded by South African news sites”, but that some news sites were “actively contributing to an erosion in trust”.

The trust erosion could be found in the “concocted” decuplets story, published by Independent Media’s Pretoria News, according to the report. 

“But it also showed that trust deficits introduced in one country can have an impact in others, with even the BBC having to publish corrections after uncritically regurgitating the original story.

“Trust in the International News Media Association’s (INMA) Global Media Awards was also compromised when judges, unaware of the context, shortlisted Independent’s video investigations in the category Best Use of Social Media. Following complaints by the South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef), the entry was later removed.”

The report also cited the 2021 State of the Newsroom report, which indicated “a positive growth in diversity” in South African newsrooms. 

“The numbers, however, do not yet reflect the country’s demographics, where about 10% of the population is white. In the 2022 Reuters Institute Women and Leadership in the News Media factsheet, South Africa ranked high (80%) in the category of percentage of online news users who say they get news from one or more major outlets with a woman as the top editor.

Facebook (52%) and WhatsApp (43%) were still the most popular platforms for sourcing news in South Africa, although there were indications of decline. “TikTok (15%) is now on a par with Instagram and increasingly being used by news organisations as a conduit for news.”

Despite the overall growth of trust in the country, the deputy chief executive officer of Code for Africa, Chris Roper, cautioned that the media space had increasingly become “a toxic terrain of mis/disinformation of media titles being co-opted into political propaganda, and of coordinated attacks on the credibility of individual journalists”.

Globally, the US ranked among the lowest countries, with only 26% of participants indicating trust in the news and the trust levels of conservatives sitting at only 14%.

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