Trust in the media

Has trust in the British media “collapsed”?

Anthony B. Masters


On 25th April, a Number 10 spokesperson claimed:

Public confidence in the media has collapsed during this emergency partly because of ludicrous stories such as this.

This article examines that claim about public confidence, or trust.

Trust is a complicated topic. There is no present evidence of a ‘collapse’ in trust in the British media. Trust differs depending on what kind of journalists researchers ask about.

What is trust?

Trust has many meanings. Prof Russell Hardin describes trust as “encapsulated interest”, with a three-part relationship:

  • Placing trust: a person placing trust must be capable of doing so.
  • Trustworthiness: In general, the trustee needs to show honesty and reliability, enabling trust.
  • Context: Trust is rarely unconditional. We generally entrust people and organisations to do specific things.

As Ipsos MORI’s report on trust highlights, the question becomes: ‘who trusts who to do what?’

No present signs

YouGov ran frequent questions about how much people trust others “to tell the truth”. Respondents could answer ‘a great deal’, ‘a fair amount’, ‘not much’, ‘not at all’, or that they don’t know.

To speak truth to power, people must trust you to speak truth.

The Sun and the Mirror are examples of “red-top tabloid newspapers”. (Image: YouGov)

In their latest internet panel poll, YouGov contacted 1,761 GB adults on 26–27th April 2020. The central estimate of ‘a great deal’ or ‘fair amount’ of trust in BBC News journalists was 47%. This estimate is higher than their survey estimate at the start of December 2019.

There is uncertainty surrounding these survey estimates. Surveys provide estimates, subject to many sources of potential error.

Yet, this polling series gives no signs of cataclysmic changes in public trust.

Chris Curtis (YouGov) and Prof Jennings (Southampton) identify partisan fractures in trust. Conservative voters have become less trusting of journalists in “upmarket” newspapers.



Anthony B. Masters

This blog looks at the use of statistics in Britain and beyond. It is written by RSS Statistical Ambassador and Chartered Statistician @anthonybmasters.