/ 18 June 2024

Latest Reuters report finds rising concerns about misinformation among South African news consumers

The Columbia Journalism Review's 'misinformation News Stand'
(Photo by Atilgan Ozdil/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

South African news consumers are increasingly concerned about misinformation and the spreading of fake news, a new report on digital media trends shows.   

Concern about misinformation increased by six percentage points in the past year and is now at 81%, according to the 2024 Reuters Digital News Report. This is much higher than the global average concern about misinformation, which is at 59%. 

The report says interest in politics in South Africa has also dwindled to 70% from 81% in 2021, not ideal for a country that held general elections on 29 May.

Concern over misinformation can erode trust in the media. 

“Mis- and disinformation has played a part, as has the proliferation of competing information sources, including those that are purely misinformation for profit aggregators,”  said Chris Roper, the deputy chief executive at Code for Africa, a nonprofit African network of digital democracy laboratories and data journalism that contributed to the report.

The report highlights that mistrust in the South African media is also driven by squabbles between news organisations. 

“Some compromised news organisations continue to produce and disseminate misinformation, resulting in an unedifying to and fro between media titles, with the most obvious example being Independent Media’s ongoing publishing of misinformation about News24 and Daily Maverick, apparently in retaliation for investigative pieces by those titles,” Roper said in the report. 

Trust in the South African media is at 57%, unchanged from last year. This is a drop from 61% in 2022 but still up from 48% during the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020. 

“Trust in news brands also appears to be stable in most cases, despite some high-level examples of conscious disinformation campaigns … as well as politically motivated attacks on the media. As always, trust and trustworthiness are not necessarily aligned.” 

The most trusted news brands according to public opinion include: News24 (83%), eNCA (81%), SABC (79%), Sunday Times (75%), while the Mail & Guardian and The Citizen were at 71%. 

The report was published days after reports that Media24 will be closing several of its major print publications, including City Press, Rapport, Beeld and Daily Sun in October. 

This comes on the back of significant financial constraints in print media driven by rising distribution costs, declining advertising revenue and a shift in readership towards online platforms. Print circulations have also been on the decrease.

In the report, Roper highlighted the closure of two other newspaper publications: Pretoria News and Weekend Post. 

“The South African National Editors Forum lamented the effect that these cuts are having on the diversity and plurality of voices in newsrooms,” he said. 

Online, print, television and some other social media have all dropped as sources of news, with print now at 25%, the report showed. 

Asked about the future of the media in South Africa, Roper said: “I think the old models have irreversibly eroded, but that there are still opportunities for the production of relevant, important news within our larger news ecosystems.”

The platforms where people get their news from is diversifying, with TikTok becoming the preferred choice for many consumers. The short video sharing platform saw the biggest jump for news platforms, with its usage increasing by six percentage points to 28%, while  YouTube increased by 1%. Facebook, WhatsApp and X all declined as sources for news. 

On a global and general level, younger people, people with low income and those with lower levels of formal education tend to trust the news less. This includes people who feel less “seen” or not well-served by the news media, the report says.