“We have noticed an inverse relationship between the volume of government anti-media sentiment and the levels of trust and confidence in journalists and the media,” says Future of News researcher. In the latest instalment of her “Backstory” series, Gill Moodie writes exclusively for Journalism.co.za:
The ruling party has been successful at creating a narrative that South African journalists are not trusted by the public – and some journalists buy into this too.
So it is fascinating that research by Jos Kuper’s FutureFact company for the recent Future of News colloquium, which is held annually at Wits University in Johannesburg, found that people have more confidence in journalists than the ruling party and the police.
In a confidence index, journalists scored 214 compared with the ANC’s 120 and the police services’ 152. On the opposite side of the scale, Public Protector Thuli Madonsela scored 262 and the Constitutional Court 288 points.
Comedians and cartoonists scored 171 on the confidence index and political commentators 144 points.
When respondents were broken down into the “connected” (those who have access to the internet and/or have a smartphone) and “not connected” (80% of whom have a feature phone but not a smartphone), journalists scored 235 on the confidence index from the connected and 189 from the not connected.
Kuper told Journalism.co.za last week that she was not surprised that journalists scored higher than the ANC and the police.
“For a couple of years, we have noticed an inverse relationship between the volume of government anti-media sentiment and the levels of trust and confidence in journalists and the media,” she says.
“Also, one of the salient features of the survey over time has been the immense support of the population for democratic values, among which is media freedom. So while people absolutely want journalists to check their sources, to check their facts, they are very supportive of their role in exposing things like corruption among both the business sector and government.”
“Journalist often harm peoples’ reputations”
In the survey, 81% of respondents agreed with the statement that the media had a duty to expose corruption among politicians and businesspeople while 17% disagreed and 2% were not sure.
Meanwhile, 44% strongly agreed with the statement that the media were much too negative about SA and didn’t show the good things that were happening; 35% agreed a little with the statement; 18% disagreed and 3% didn’t know.
When it came to the statement “journalist often harm peoples’ reputations because they don’t check their information sufficiently”, 45% of respondents agreed a lot with this; 35% agreed a little; 17% disagreed and 4% didn’t know.
The survey of 3 048 adults, aged 18 years and over, from throughout SA (except communities of fewer than 500 people) was done in the field in October and November last year.
Because it uses random probability sampling, it can be weighted up statistically to a population of 22.8-million adults.
FutureFact has been surveying South Africans’ attitudes and beliefs since 1998.
One of the big themes to emerge from the survey (for online publishers to know) is that mobile use means higher social-media activity and engagement while PCs means more commercial engagement online.
“The findings should enable better targeting of different initiatives for the different platforms,” Kuper says. “And if tablet use increases even in schools, we are likely to see a young generation growing up more attuned to a world view – the tablet sitting somewhere between a smartphone and a PC in the mix.
“This will have a major impact over time for the kinds of people who access news online and how they interact with it in commercial terms. Social media though will continue to predominate for some time as a prompt to accessing news on other platforms… while the more intensive reading or viewing and commercial interactivity will be more located within PC interactivity.”
“Middle class feels that their new-found economic status is precarious”
For advertisers and editors, it is interesting to note this striking feature of the survey findings: that both the haves and have-nots in South Africa are challenged financially – and that the connected are unwilling to spend money in case things get worse.
In a nutshell, the emerging middle class feels that their new-found economic status is precarious.
Asked whether this goes against the notion that the emerging middle class is into conspicuous consumption, Kuper says: “Many have been burnt by over commitment during the good times and are now more cautious in their approach to spending. There is huge pressure to support others in the family who are less fortunate than themselves, and in an economy with a great deal of unemployment, this is bound to persist for some time.
“But the perception that possessions bring status will still be an enticement to get there oneself, and so a fair degree of conspicuous consumption is likely to persist.”
Other interesting findings in the survey include:
- There is a vast dependency on cellphones, especially smartphones: 76% of the connected say they feetlost without their phones and 48% of the not connected say the same.
- There is an increasing degree of connectedness across all LSM groups: LSM 5-6, for instance went from 18% in 2012 to 38% in 2014 while LSM 7-8 moved from 44% in 2012 to 62% in 2014.
- The connected generally feel they have more control over their lives and are “happier, healthier and less angry with the world”.
- Fifty-nine percent read a traditional newspaper (and not online); 36% read both; and 5% only a website, not a traditional newspaper. Thirty-five percent of the connected visit news websites – either a particular newspaper title or an aggregated news site. This increases to 53% if they have access to a computer.
- Of 19 news websites surveyed, News24 has the highest penetration, with 25% saying they are regular visitors, which goes up to 40% of those with a computer.
- Nearly all listen to at least one radio station – whether they are connected or not – and devices have an impact on downloading podcasts: 15% do so on a tablet, 9% on a PC and 6% on a smartphone.
- Thirty-six percent of those connected with a computer watch YouTube videos and 10% of these downloaded TV programmes while 17% of people connected without a computer watch YouTube videos and 3% download TV programmes.
- Across the board, local TV news channels have higher viewing than international ones.
The average time per day spent on social media is 4% while for respondents with a computer, it is 3.6 hours; without a computer 4.2 hours and for 18-34 year olds it is 4.4 hours.
- For those with access to the web, Facebook is the social network used most regularly followed by Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.
The survey also found a lot of social-media use among all the political parties’ supporters.
“Interestingly in South Africa, it is all ages – perhaps with a lesser degree among the 50-plus group – who are responsive to the value of social media in their access to what is happening and social-media messaging,” Kuper says. “This is in contrast to the US, where the Obama campaign so successfully targeted mainly the young.
“Because social media hold such traction for significant numbers of party supporters – and particularly for swing voters – they are likely to play a key part in political messages for our local elections in 2016. Political parties are likely to have to deal with a far more active population in the social-media space, communicating about politics in a far more fluid voting context than ever before.
“The proportion of the potential swing vote is very high relative to what it has been in the past and so the messaging will be key to securing loyalty from a more politically engaged populace.”
- Investment in people keeps news groups afloat, BDLive, Feb 2015
- Audiences drive change in news and journalism world, Journalism.co.za, Feb 2015
- 2015 media trends: upheaval as the search for digital revenue continues, Grubstreet, Jan 2015
- Generation Y, mobile and news: a magic combination, Journalism.co.za, Aug 2014