This week’s Essential Report had an interesting set of questions on public perceptions of influence and trust as they apply to a number of various groups in Australia, one being the media. That got me thinking about public perceptions of the media more generally, so today we’ll have a quick squiz at the polling data over the last 5 or 6 years on this, including a poll where the sample is actually made up entirely of journalists. If you work in the media, it’s probably not a good idea to read any further – or if you can’t help yourself, get some tissues, some chocolate and book a session with your favourite therapist of choice. You may well need it after these charts.
Not only did a clear majority of the public believe that the media has too much influence on the policies of our political parties (the highest rating of all groups asked about in the question), but the media was also the least trusted to represent the interests of the public to boot.
This public negativity towards the media as a collective body is not particularly new. Morgan runs a phone poll every year that asks the following question:
As I say different occupations, could you please say — from what you know or have heard – which rating best describes how you, yourself, would rate or score people in various occupations for honesty and ethical standards (Very High, High, Average, Low, Very Low)?
Morgan then tracks the sum of the “very high” and “high” responses across time – going all the way back to 1979. While you can see the full results of the latest survey over here (this year’s survey should be due any time now), just for some quick context, this is what the time series of responses for a few of the non-media occupations look like:
Oh to be a car salesman. This is what the various categories of media occupations look like:
The media has never been held in particularly high regard when it comes to honesty and ethical standards. In fact, Newspaper journalists – the media occupation with the lowest perceived ethical standards and honesty – come in just above “advertising people” and just below “Real Estate Agents”. I’m sure they aspire to double their score this year and come in equal to State MPs 😛
Going back further and again with Morgan – being the only pollster that regularly asks about these issues – in 2007 Morgan asked the following questions and received the following responses:
So not only are the media generally held in poor regard on the question of ethical standards and honesty, but 85% of the population thought that Newspaper journalists were often biased – compared to 74% for TV reporters, 69% for talk-back announcers, while us internet folks …. well, we rock 😛 Behold our non-biased, factual accuracy!
However, when it comes to getting facts wrong, the media performed somewhat better than they did on the issue of bias, with Newspaper journalists leading the way on 62%.
Going back a little further in time to 2004 – and again with Morgan – public perceptions of media accuracy measured.
Newspapers again led the way with two thirds of the public believing that accuracy and fairness in reporting weren’t the new black when it came to the media.
Also in 2004, Morgan measured public perceptions on whether the media was doing a good job on reporting political events, controversial issues and keeping Australians informed.
A third of the population believed that the media did a good job on keeping Australians informed on subjects we should know about, but only 18% of the public believed the media was doing a good job on covering elections and controversial topics without bias.
One interesting little poll I found – a poll undertaken in 2004 which seemed to be a joint effort between RMIT and Roy Morgan -a sample was organised consisting entirely of journalists, so that a number of questions could be asked. This was a very small sample poll, so only treat it as indicative rather than necessarily accurate. Never the less, the results are pretty interesting since we rarely get to hear the journalists side of the story on matters of media bias except for the occasional outright denial and angry Editorial. The sample was described as:
A sample of 129 people working in print and electronic media answered a questionnaire online in August 2004. The questionnaire was constructed by the journalism department of RMIT university, which identified a cross-section of 388 journalists, editors and news directors, of whom 33% responded. Within the sample, 82% work in print media (27.9% from News Ltd, 21% from Fairfax), and 17% from electronic media including the ABC; 29% were earning $36,000 to $55,000, and 25% were earning $100,000 plus; 23% had been in the profession less than five years and 27% had been in the profession more than 20 years; 35% were aged 25-34 and 31% were 35-44; 66% had university degrees (just under half of which were journalism degrees).
First up, the respondents were asked whether they agreed or disagreed with the following statements:
Large majorities of journalists know that the public holds them in fairly low esteem, believe vacuous news is given too much prominence and think media proprietors use their publications to push their own vested interests. So the views of jouralists on these matters would not appear to be too dissimilar to that of the broader public. On the matter of negative community perceptions, a further question was asked on the issue:
Here, most journalists believed that sensationalism and inaccurate reporting were behind these negative community perceptions. Again, pretty consistent with what would appear to be broader public opinion.
On the matter of their influence on public opinion:
While 75% of journalists believed the occupation was either very or moderately influential when it comes to changing public opinion, apparently that belief has never really been applied to the public’s opinion of their own occupation 😛
An interesting question was asked on ideological affiliations and perceptions of journalists ideological affiliations by getting responses to two statements:
Journalists believed that the public thought they were around twice as Left as they actually are, thought the public believed they were 4 times more likely to be Right than they are – yet were actually twice as Small “l” liberal as the public believed they were.
Finally, the journalists were asked about partisan bias within media organisations: