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ČASOPIS ZA UPRAVLJANJE KOMUNICIRANJEM

BROJ/NUMBER 26 GODINA/YEAR VIII PROLEĆE/SPRING 2013.


COMMUNICATION MANAGEMENT QUARTERLY

Trust in the media across Europe


Lars Nyre, Liina Puustinen

The image of trust. Readers’ views on the


trustworthiness of news photographs
Liina Puustinen, Janne Seppänen

Trust in the author: Identity, expertise and reputation


Tereza Pavlíčková

Social networking sites – (un)trustworthy news sources?


Jelena Jurišić, Ivana Šipić

Trust in the diverging, convergent multi-platform media environment


Guy Starkey

Trust in the context of audience fragmentation


CM Ragne Kõuts, Peeter Vihalemm, Marju Lauristin

Comparing the incomparable: Trust in media and state institutions


Gintaras Aleknonis

Institutional trust in the Croatian post-socialist context


Antonija Čuvalo

BROJ/NUMBER 26 GODINA/YEAR VIII PROLEĆE/SPRING 2013.


Redakcija/Editorial Board:
Alić Sead, Center for Philosophy of Media, Zagreb (Croatia)
Alvares Claudia, Lusófona University (Portugal)
Bailey Olga, Nottingham Trent University (UK)
Balčytienė Auksė, Vytautas Magnus University (Lithuania)
Branković Srbobran, University Singidunum (Serbia)
Carpentier Nico, Loughborough University (UK); Vrije Universiteit Brussel (Belgium);
Charles University (Czech Republic)
Carpentier Reifová Irena, Charles University (Czech Republic)
Colombo Fausto, Catholic University, Milan (Italy)
Damásio Manuel José, Lusófona University (Portugal)
Głowacki Michał, University of Warsaw (Poland)
Hasebrink Uwe, University of Hamburg (Germany)
Hibberd Matthew, University of Stirling (UK)
Jevtović Zoran, University of Niš (Serbia)
Jirák Jan, Charles University; Metropolitan University Prague (Czech Republic)
Kleut Jelena, Editorial Assistant, University of Novi Sad (Serbia)
Lauk Epp, University of Jyväskylä (Finland)
Maigret Eric, Université Paris 3 Sorbonne Nouvelle (France)
Milojević Ana, University of Belgrade (Serbia)
Nieminen Hannu, University of Helsinki (Finland)
Olsson Tobias, Jönköping University (Sweden)
Patriarche Geoffroy, Facultes universitaires Saint-Louis, Academie Louvain (Belgium)
Pruulmann-Vengerfeldt Pille, University of Tartu (Estonia)
Schrøder Kim Christian, Roskilde University (Denmark)
Sorice Michele, CMCS – LUISS University, Rome (Italy)
Stojković Branimir, University of Belgrade (Serbia)
Sundin Ebba, Jönköping University (Sweeden)
Terzis Georgios, Vesalius College, Brussels (Belgium); Vrije Universiteit Brussel (Belgium);
University of Oxford (UK)
Titley Gavan, National University of Ireland (Ireland)
Todorović Neda, University of Belgrade (Serbia)
Tomanić Trivundža Ilija, University of Ljubljana (Slovenia)
Turčilo Lejla, University of Sarajevo (Bosnia and Herzegovina)
Türkoğlu Nurçay, Marmara University (Turkey)
Vuksanović Divna, University of Arts (Serbia)
Wimmer Jeffrey, Technical University Ilmenau (Germany)
Action IS0906

Transforming
Audiences,
Transforming
Societies

http://www.cost.eu http://www.cost-transforming-audiences.eu

Special issue

Trust in the media across Europe


Edited by Lars Nyre & Liina Puustinen

This special issue is resulting from the work of the Working Group
on “New Media Genres, Media Literacy, and Trust in the Media” of
the COST Action IS0906 “Transforming Audiences, Transforming
Societies”.

COST is an intergovernmental framework for European Cooperation in


Science and Technology, allowing the coordination of nationally-funded
research at the European level.

The Action “Transforming Audiences, Transforming Societies” (2010-


2014) is coordinating research efforts into the key transformations of
European audiences within a changing media and communication
environment, identifying their complex interrelationships with the
social, cultural and political areas of European societies. A range of
interconnected but distinct topics concerning audiences are being
developed by four Working Groups: (1) New media genres, media literacy
and trust in the media; (2) Audience interactivity and participation; (3)
The role of media and ICT use for evolving social relationships; and (4)
Audience transformations and social integration.

Published with the


additional support of
CM
ČASOPIS ZA UPRAVLJANJE KOMUNICIRANJEM
COMMUNICATION MANAGEMENT QUARTERLY

Broj 26, godina VIII № 26, Year 8

Trust in the media across Europe 7–10


Lars Nyre, Liina Puustinen

The image of trust. Readers’ views on the


trustworthiness of news photographs 11–32
Liina Puustinen, Janne Seppänen

Trust in the author: Identity, expertise and reputation 33–50


Tereza Pavlíčková

Social networking sites – (un)trustworthy news sources? 51–72


Jelena Jurišić, Ivana Šipić

Trust in the diverging, convergent multi-platform media environment 73–98


Guy Starkey

Trust in the context of audience fragmentation 99–124


Ragne Kõuts, Peeter Vihalemm, Marju Lauristin

Comparing the incomparable: Trust in media and state institutions 125–144


Gintaras Aleknonis

Institutional trust in the Croatian post-socialist context  145–164


Antonija Čuvalo

Instructions for authors 165


CM
ČASOPIS ZA UPRAVLJANJE KOMUNICIRANJEM
COMMUNICATION MANAGEMENT QUARTERLY

Izdavači/Publishers:
CDC – Centar za usmeravanje komunikacija, Novi Sad (Prethodno: PROTOCOL) / Communication Direction Center
Fakultet političkih nauka, Beograd / Faculty of Political Sciences, Belgrade

Glavni i odgovorni urednik/Editor:


Prof. dr Miroljub Radojković, Fakultet političkih nauka, Univerzitet u Beogradu

Urednik izdanja/Volume Editor:


mr Boris Labudović

Lektura tekstova na srpskom jeziku/Proofreading in Serbian: Dragana Prodanović

Lektura tekstova na engleskom jeziku/Proofreading in English: Jane Corrigan

Za izdavače/Official representatives:
prof. dr Ilija Vujačić dekan Fakulteta političkih nauka u Beogradu/Dean of the Faculty of Political Sciences
Nataša Jovović direktor CDC/Director of CDC

Adresa redakcije/Editorial office:


Maksima Gorkog 32, 21000 Novi Sad, Serbia
Telefoni/fax: +381 (0)21 / 425 880, 425 881, 425 882; cdc@nscable.net

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Štampanje časopisa finansijski je pomoglo Ministarstvo prosvete i nauke Republike Srbije

Publication of the Journal is financially supported by


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Библиотека Матице Српске, Нови Сад
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CM : časopis za upravljanje komuniciranjem = communication management


quarterly / glavni i odgovorni urednik Miroljub Radojković. – God. 8, br. 26
(2013) – – Novi Sad : CDC–Centar za usmeravanje komunikacija ; Beograd :
Fakultet političkih nauka, 2013–. – 24 cm

Tromesečno.
ISSN 1452-7405

COBISS.SR-ID 218473735
Trust in the media across Europe

Lars Nyre1
Department of Information Science and Media Studies
University of Bergen, Norway

Liina Puustinen2
Department of Political and Economic Studies
University of Helsinki, Finland

doi:10.5937/comman1326007N

This special issue on audiences’ trust in the media comes out of the COST
action “Transforming Audiences, Transforming Societies” (2010-2013). The
first versions of many of the papers were presented at a panel about Trust in
media at the action’s first conference New challenges and methodological innova-
tions in European media audience research, held at the University of Zagreb in
April 2011. The idea of a special issue was taken further at the COST action’s
conference in London in 2011, and to widen the scope of contributors a call for
papers was issued in the spring of 2012.
At present there is a flourishing interest in trust research, and the authors of
this issue also relate to the special issue of the European Journal of Communica-
tion in 2012, where media scholars and sociologists discuss theoretical notions
of trust. Our special issue is, however, more directly focussed on empirical
research. In all, the articles are sociological by nature. They try to explain the
invisible bond that makes humans trust each other to act in the interest of
the other, and they look for patterns and rules for how humans relate to each
other through institutions. This is a major theme in modern sociology, and the
authors draw on a theoretical tradition where Anthony Giddens, Niklas Luh-
mann, Piotr Sztompka and Russel Hardin are central contributors.

1
lars.nyre@infomedia.uib.no
2
liina.puustinen@helsinki.fi

CM : Communication Management Quarterly : Časopis za upravljanje komuniciranjem 26 (2013) 7–10 © 2013 CDC and author(s) 7
Trust in the media across Europe Lars Nyre, Liina Puustinen

Trust research traditionally has two theoretical and empirical foci; trust in
institutions and trust in persons. The issue begins with analyses of the herme-
neutic, qualitative, personal dimensions of trust, but overall it is dominated by
explorations of generalized trust in institutions. Our menu spans five different
European countries, all dealing with contemporary times, from circa 2000 to
the present.
Audience experience is at the core of our interests. This is where trust is per-
formed, so to speak. The first article is a careful empirical analysis of the quite
ordinary act of looking at war photographs in newspapers.“The image of trust.
Readers’ views on the trustworthiness of news photographs” is written by Liina
Puustinen and Janne Seppänen from Finland. They ask whether Finns still trust
news photographs in an era of digital manipulation. They find that people are
able to be quite precise in their formulation of trust relations, and categorize
them in four types; tacit trust, measured trust, contextual trust and doubt. All
of these positions are relatively meta-reflective, and imply a finding that people
are able to think for themselves.
The second article continues and expands the hermeneutical focus. “Trust
in the imagined author. Identity, expertise and reputation” is written by Tereza
Pavlíčková, who works in the Czech Republic and the United Kingdom. She
presents a sharp empirical analysis of the way the internet has confused the
identity of authors. Using qualitative interviews with young adults she argues
that trust is shaped by perception of the author’s identity, expertise and reputa-
tion.
The formation of trust relations in contemporary Europe is necessarily in-
fluenced by social media. These interactive, non-editorial media help to change
the power relations between media and audiences, as they add to the already
high media-diversity and multi-platform behaviour. Social media are not only a
good thing, and this issue is addressed head on in the third article. “Social net-
working sites are untrustworthy news sources” is written by Jelena Jurišić and
Ivana Šipić from Croatia. In this normative text they claim that journalists are
poor at understanding social media, and that the quality of journalism suffers.
The critique is most poignant for Croatia, but to varying degrees appropriate
also for other European countries.
There seems to be a lack of institutional frameworks for the new media, and
the growth of new institutional solutions may threaten traditional or ‘legacy
media’. This brings us to the fourth article, which is “Trust in the diverging,

8 CM : Communication Management Quarterly : Časopis za upravljanje komuniciranjem 26 (2013) 7–10 © 2013 CDC and author(s)
Lars Nyre, Liina Puustinen Trust in the media across Europe

convergent multi-platform media environment” by Guy Starkey in England.


Monopoly is a thing of the past, and now there may be several dozen channels
in any home in any European country. People have to develop skills in media
literacy in order to tackle this bewildering diversity. Starkey argues that trust
was once placed hegemonically in state monopolies and public/private duopo-
lies, but with diversity and fragmentation it is placed in the strongest brands;
the ones that remain most visible in the everyday situation of the audiences.
With the fifth article, the method changes. The three last articles do sta-
tistical analyses of generalized trust, especially related to state institutions and
marked-driven media. In their article “Trust in the context of audience frag-
mentation” Ragne Kõuts, Peeter Vihalemm and Marju Lauristin from Estonia,
continue the exploration of fragmentation and lack of institutional frameworks
that Pavlíčková, and Jurišić and Šipić also pursue. They present a study on the
many-faceted influences on audiences’ trust on a national level for Estonia. The
authors identify several types of users, where the dominant is the “multi-active”
user (23 %), who not only are heavy users of all media channels, but also the
most trustful in both media and state institutions. But at the same time they
are extremely critical towards Estonian media performance, because they judge
their own country in an international perspective. This type of audience is likely
to be prevalent in may other countries too.
Statistics tells us that in many countries trust in media is positively corre-
lated with trust in state institutions. The sixth article is called “Comparing the
incomparable: Trust in media and state institutions”, and is written by Gintaras
Aleknonis from Lithuania. He explores the relationship between media and
state institutions using data from the Eurobarometer; the large database of
surveys dating decades back for EU countries. He argues that in experienced
democracies trust primarily rests in democratic state institutions, while trust
in media is secondary. However, countries with fresh memory of a totalitarian
past live in a transitional period where the role of state institutions and market-
driven media are more equal.
The concept of ‘institution’ is important in trust research, and in our sev-
enth and final article it is studied in careful theoretical and empirical detail:
“Institutional trust in the Croatian post-socialist context”, written by Antonija
Čuvalo from Croatia. Čuvalo confirms Aleknonis’ argument about the differ-
ence between established democracies and transitional countries. She shows
that political trust in Croatia is still, after two decades of transition, not inde-

CM : Communication Management Quarterly : Časopis za upravljanje komuniciranjem 26 (2013) 7–10 © 2013 CDC and author(s) 9
Trust in the media across Europe Lars Nyre, Liina Puustinen

pendent from trust in media. Measured in relation to trust, the media have a
more prominent role in Eastern Europe than in the west.
With this menu of empirical contributions we believe we have added to the
growing literature on trust, and the European focus on it. Special thanks to Kim
Schröder, the head of the “Working Group 1: New Media Genres, Media Lit-
eracy, and Trust in the Media” of the COST action, Jelena Kleut of the CMQ,
proof-reader Jane Corrigan and the reviewers, who must remain anonymous.

10 CM : Communication Management Quarterly : Časopis za upravljanje komuniciranjem 26 (2013) 7–10 © 2013 CDC and author(s)
The image of trust. Readers’ views on the
trustworthiness of news photographs

Liina Puustinen1
Department of Political and Economic Studies
University of Helsinki, Finland

Janne Seppänen2
School of Communication, Media and Theatre
University of Tampere, Finland

doi:10.5937/comman1326011P

Summary: After the digitalisation of the photographic process, an ample debate has
revolved around one question: can people still trust in news photographs? To answer the
question we first need to know what trust is and how it is conceptualised in the visual ex-
perience. Therefore, we conducted an empirical reception study in order to find out how
people talk about the trust related to news photographs. We found that trust is a compli-
cated and dynamic phenomenon, which is very hard to capture. With the aid of frame
analysis, the study elicits four dimensions of trust: 1) Tacit trust is the general frame
upon which people act in everyday life, also when watching news images; 2) Measured
trust is activated when the viewer takes a conscious risk in that the news image is not
representative of reality. Yet this is a trusting approach to the image; 3) Contextual trust
is negotiation of trust, comparing different genres and contexts; 4) Finally, doubt comes
to the fore when the viewer openly questions the veracity or the purpose of the image,
whether it is manipulated or selected in order to persuade the viewer for a certain cause.
The study shows that readers’ trust is a multidimensional process, yet the frame of tacit
trust is the most common among interviewees. Trust in the case of news images can be
expanded to reflect audiences’ trust in media at large.

Keywords: audience, trust, news images

1
liina.puustinen@helsinki.fi
2
janne.seppanen@uta.fi

CM : Communication Management Quarterly : Časopis za upravljanje komuniciranjem 26 (2013) 11–32 © 2013 CDC and author(s) 11
The image of trust. Liina Puustinen, Janne Seppänen

Introduction
The whole existence of society and the reproduction of the social order are
dependent on citizens’ capability to trust in its basic institutions. If this trust
becomes undermined considerably, social instability may rise and lead to seri-
ous difficulties in the function of the whole society. Many social theorists (e.g.
Giddens, 1990; Misztal, 1996; Seligman, 1997; Rosanvallon, 2008) have un-
derlined the importance of trust especially in modern societies, which basically
draw their legitimacy on different forms of social contract than openly violent
or coercive forms of power.
In his theory of modernisation, Anthony Giddens (1990) uses the term
‘abstract systems’ to describe expertise-based late modern social institutions
involved, for example, with health-care and the maintenance of the technical
infrastructure of society. Trust in these institutions and their representatives are
one central trait in the whole process of modernisation. As a result, we trust
doctors, aviation mechanics, police, etc. Media can be seen as one abstract sys-
tem among others whose importance has actually increased within the media-
tisation (see Couldry, 2008) of other social institutions and society as a whole.
If the media and especially news organisations establish a part of society’s
abstract systems and governmental democracy, the trustworthiness of the media
is an essential part of the legitimacy of social systems as a whole. However, there
is ample evidence that the public’s trust in (news) media is on the decline (see
e.g. Vanacker & Belmas, 2009; Harwood, 2004; Tsfati & Cappella, 2003). In
recent years, the capacity of the news media to reflect social reality and also take
part in it has also been a subject of debate (see Coleman, 2012; Van Zoonen,
2012; Quandt, 2012; Coleman et al., 2009; Kohring & Matthes, 2007). Some
scandalous manipulations of news photographs have also been said to under-
mine the trustworthiness of news media (see e.g. Mäenpää & Seppänen, 2010).
Yet, in most studies, the question of trust in media has mainly been treated as
a yes/no binary question and answer. Our aim is to broaden the understand-
ing of trust in media as a multidimensional, social process which is constantly
renegotiated.
On what grounds, in the first place, can we suppose that people trust in
news photographs? If they trust in them, what is the nature of this trust? How is
the trust in news photographs related to the wider questions of trust in journal-
ism, media and even society as a whole?

12 CM : Communication Management Quarterly : Časopis za upravljanje komuniciranjem 26 (2013) 11–32 © 2013 CDC and author(s)
Liina Puustinen, Janne Seppänen The image of trust.

Trust in news media


In most cases, trust in news media has been studied under the label of media
credibility or accuracy (see Bentele, 2008; Tsfati, 2008). However, many of the
studies on trust in news media are surveys which do not recognise the flexibility
of trust and its evolving disposition affected by personal, situational, cultural,
social and historical factors. In his recent article, Stephen Coleman (2012)
proposes that trust and efficacy in the news should be studied as multi-layered
discursive constructs that cannot be measured only by surveys. He writes that
trust in the news operates at two levels: First-order trust involves an expecta-
tion of honesty on behalf of the news producers, i.e. “that they will try to tell
us true stories and not made up ones; that they will strive to be accurate rather
than approximate; and that they will deliver the news hourly or daily, in a regu-
lar fashion, rather than haphazardly” (Coleman, 2012: 36). These first-order
expectations are met most often in Central European and Nordic countries.
Second-order trust is about whether the audiences and news producers share
similar expectations about the function of the news. “This second-order prob-
lem of trust is at the core of a prevalent tension between contemporary news
production values and news consumption frustrations” (Coleman, 2012: 36).
In an earlier study, Stephen Coleman and his fellow researchers (Coleman,
Scott & Morrison, 2009) define three vital functions for trust in the context of
news media:
1. Trust serves as an ‘institutional economizer’ which decreases the need for
procedures of verification and proof. “We need to be able to rely upon the
reputation of the reporter without having to check and recheck every sin-
gle account that is given to us” (Coleman, Scott & Morrison, 2009: 4).
2. News media take care of the connection between the representative gov-
ernment and the ordinary citizen: “The ways in which news are produced,
circulated and made sense of are intimately linked to the enactment of
citizenship in confident, timid or withdrawn fashions” (Coleman, Scott
& Morrison, 2009).
3. T rust enables the interaction with others (strangers) in a predictable man-
ner: there are some basic rules and norms of conduct which are based
– more or less explicitly – on a mutual agreement. This means, in the
context of journalism, that the readers of newspapers, for example, have
certain expectations that journalists will deliver them correct information
about the world. There is a kind of silent agreement between readers and
news journalists, whom they normally do not know personally.
CM : Communication Management Quarterly : Časopis za upravljanje komuniciranjem 26 (2013) 11–32 © 2013 CDC and author(s) 13
The image of trust. Liina Puustinen, Janne Seppänen

In a very recent account, Thorsten Quandt (2012) discusses the role of


trust in parallel to the development of media. He makes a theoretical typology
of personal trust, institutionalised trust and network trust. However, neither
Coleman’s nor Quandt’s recent writings provide qualitative empirical evidence
about the multiple dimensions of trust as socio-psychological process.
A useful theoretical starting point for our study has been Niklas Luh-
mann’s (1988) distinction between confidence and trust. Both notions refer
to expectations which may lapse into disappointments. Confidence is a tacit
and, in a sense, passive stance: “You are confident that your expectations will
not be disappointed: that politicians will try to avoid war, that cars will not
break down or suddenly leave the street and hit you on your Sunday afternoon
walk” (Luhmann, 1988: 97). People cannot live without forming expectations
to contingent events and they tend to neglect, more or less, the possibility of
disappointment. If you do not consider alternatives you are in a situation of
confidence. Trust, on the other hand, requires a previous engagement and pre-
supposes a situation of risk. If you choose one action in preference to others in
spite of the possibility of being disappointed by the action of others, one defines
the situation as one of trust (Luhmann, 1988: 97–98).
Luhmann’s ideas offer a theoretical view on trust as a situational and multi-
dimensional process, yet, we find it incomplete. Luhmann’s distinction between
confidence and trust is also quite evident in the respondents’ discussions in our
empirical interview study. Yet, we find the process of trust more complicated
and we have decided to call the dimensions tacit trust and measured trust. More-
over, we have delineated two more frames: contextual trust and doubt.
It is also obvious that the semiotic qualities of the photographic image af-
fect how the question of trust is expressed in the interviews. As a sign – or as
a combination of different signs – the unique attribute of the photographic
representation is indexicality. Charles Sanders Peirce (1960: 137) defined the
indexical sign: “If the Sign be an Index, we may think of it as a fragment torn
away from the Object, the two in their existence being one whole or a part of
such whole.” Peirce summarised his conception:
“Photographs, especially instantaneous photographs, are very instructive,
because we know that they are in certain respects exactly like the objects
they represent. But this resemblance is due to the photographs having been
produced under such circumstances that they were physically forced to cor-
respond point by point to nature. In that aspect, then, they belong to the
second class of signs, those by physical connection” (in Doane, 2007: 134).

14 CM : Communication Management Quarterly : Časopis za upravljanje komuniciranjem 26 (2013) 11–32 © 2013 CDC and author(s)
Liina Puustinen, Janne Seppänen The image of trust.

The indexical power of the photographic image proved to be very useful in


the service of different documentary practices – including journalism – from
the mid-1800s onwards. Indexicality goes hand in hand with the eye-witness-
ing function of journalism (Zelizer, 2007) and, hence, strengthens the presence
of the whole news story. It is the material evidence of ‘having been there’, where
the actual news scene has taken place.
From this point of view, it is understandable how strongly media houses
react against the infringements of indexicality in the news context. Photojour-
nalists have lost their jobs after having taken liberties to digitally manipulate
their pictures in an inappropriate manner and, hence, violate the indexicality of
the news photograph. The infringement has undermined the trustworthiness of
news photographs and media houses as well. As a consequence, news agencies
and media houses have launched different kinds of codes of conduct for photo
editing to limit the threat caused by “digital darkrooms” (see Mäenpää & Sep-
pänen, 2010).

Study
In the study, we conducted 30 qualitative individual interviews with readers
of print and online newspapers in Finland in 2009-2010. The interviews were
conducted in three cities – Helsinki, Tampere and Jyväskylä – and the respond-
ents’ demographics range from 15 to 65 years, half of them women and half
of them men. The interviewees were found using a so-called snowball method.
This means that the first interviewees were found through acquaintances and
Facebook announcements. The informants were then asked to recommend
someone they knew, and these people were used for the following interviews.
Still, the demographic sample was kept as representative as possible.
The average length of the interviews is 45 minutes each. All of the inter-
views were recorded, transcribed and analysed with the Atlas.ti qualitative tool.
In the interviews we used a design which is related to the method of photo
elicitation, making the topic of the interview present and tangible (e.g. Rose,
2007; Harper, 2002). To relate the interview situation to real media content,
the respondents were exposed to examples of news images. The role of the news
photo was even more important in our study, as the reception – the viewing
situation – was the object of research. The topic discussed via photographs
was the photographic image and the medium itself in the context of trust. The
interviewees were exposed to ten examples of news images in print and online
newspapers. These images served as examples of news photographs and repre-
CM : Communication Management Quarterly : Časopis za upravljanje komuniciranjem 26 (2013) 11–32 © 2013 CDC and author(s) 15
The image of trust. Liina Puustinen, Janne Seppänen

sented all news sections (domestic, foreign, entertainment/culture and econom-


ics) from the ten largest Finnish newspapers as well as two foreign newspapers.
In semi-structured interviews, the informants discussed their trust in news
images from various angles. They were first shown the images without the con-
text and then with the context of headline, text and newspaper logo. They were
not asked directly about their trust in the images at first. Instead we asked them
to talk openly about the feelings and thoughts evoked by the photograph. It
turned out that in most cases people did not talk about their trust in the image
during this phase, but needed to be prompted to ponder on the question as to
what types of trust they felt in these pictures.
The interviews were analysed by a close reading method, first dividing the
interviews into emerging themes and then observing how the informants talked
about their trust in images. For a closer analysis of the audience’s references to
trust we used frame analysis based on Erwing Goffman (1974). The frames
can be defined as culturally shared ways of structuring perceptions and under-
standing and talking about various issues and situations. By framing, a person
makes an interpretation and definition of a situation. People make observations
for signs or cues through which they – both consciously and unconsciously –
choose the frame of interpretation (Goffman, 1974: 25–27). The units of frame
analysis can be various situations of social interaction. Our analysis will focus
on the frames expressed in interview speech. In other words, we analyse the
interview talk as text – as a written transcript – and therefore will not consider
the other situational factors.
The four frames of trust are not, of course, clear-cut categories, but they
are often overlapping. The speaker might start speaking in a certain frame then
quite rapidly move to another. Moreover, we are aware that our analysis is also
a way of framing the research object, i.e. the interview speech. It is important
to keep in mind that the questions of the interviewer impose a certain frame to
which the informants reply.
In the analysis of the interviews, we noticed that not all the regular news
images evoked much talk about thoughts or feelings, and neither did they evoke
discussion on the veracity of the photographs. For this reason we chose to focus
on interview excerpts concerning two particular news images which evoked the
most discussion about trust. Both images deal with foreign news. Obviously,
distant conflicts in foreign countries are issues which are difficult for the reader
to verify. The reader is then heavily dependent on the information conveyed by
the media, and therefore it is regarded as less trustworthy.

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In the interview situation, the images were first shown cut out of the con-
text. In a similar way, the first image (Image 1) was exposed to the respondents
as a close up of a little boy looking at the camera/viewer with big sad eyes. The
informants were asked: what thoughts or feelings does this image evoke? And a
follow-up question was: Is this image truthful? Afterwards, the same questions
were repeated when the image was shown with the context of the whole news
article and page or the newspaper. Then the interviewee was informed that
the image was published on the front page of the Finnish newspaper Helsingin
Sanomat from 30 December 2008. The English translation of the headline is
‘Gaza bombings threaten to light up the West Bank.’ The photo credits are
found in the corner of the photograph, which was taken by a Reuters photog-
rapher named Ibraheem Abu Mustafa. There are also two other smaller photos
attached to the article. The other is a map illustration of Palestine and Israel and
next to is a small photo depicting tanks.
Image 1: Front page news on war in Gaza, Finnish newspaper Helsingin Sanomat, 30.12.2008.

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The second selected photograph (Image 2) is also about a war situation. In


the foreground of the image a soldier is standing with his gun in the middle of a
crowd of civilians squatting on the ground. At first, the informants were shown
this image without the news article, and later they were shown the headline
‘Panic and Human Shields in Basra’, revealing that the story was about the Brit-
ish soldiers’ participation in the Iraq war. The caption says “DOWN! A British
soldier manning the Azubayr Bridge orders fleeing Basra residents to hit the dirt
when the Iraqi forces opened fire.” The image was published in the Los Angeles
Times on 31 March 2003.
Image 2: The front page of the Los Angeles Times, 31.3.2003.

After discussing the image in its context, the informants were told the
story behind the photograph. When the news was published, the Los Angeles
Times was not aware that the image had been manipulated by photographer
Brian Walski. Later in the media interviews, the photographer explained that
he was suffering from exhaustion working in the war zone and was not happy

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with the photos he had taken. Therefore, he decided to make a collage of two
photos from the same situation. He cut the soldier from one photo and pasted
it in the other, in order to create a visual dynamics between the soldier and the
father carrying a child in his arms (see Image 2). The manipulation was soon
discovered after the publication of the newspaper issue and it caused a big pub-
lic debate. The photographer was expelled. All of the respondents in our study
were told that the image had been manipulated and they were shown the two
original photographs which were used for the collage. Below we shall analyse
the dynamics of the frames of trust when the informants talked about these two
news images.

Tacit Trust
Luhmann defines confidence as an unreflective and passive outlook. This
is a starting point for how we relate to situations, issues and other people. We
cannot live without forming expectations of contingent events and tend to
ignore the possibility of disappointment (Luhmann, 1988: 97). Related to the
idea of confidence, we define the frame of tacit trust as the dominant way in
which the Finnish interviewees responded to news images. Tacit trust was ac-
tivated when the interviewees discussed the images: they described what they
saw in the photo, they analysed the characters’ poses, the colours or shades in
the picture, they made guesses as to what had happened in the situation of the
photograph, and talked about the background of the news story. But they did
not talk about their trust in the news image. Hence, in most cases, they did
not question the veracity of the photograph and they did not talk about their
trust in the image before the interviewer asked them about it. (Sometimes they
brought up the question of trust because it had been raised during the previous
photo example.)
In the frame of tacit trust, our interviewees very often talked about the in-
cidents depicted in the photograph as if the image itself were an open window
to the external reality. The informants described the elements and contexts of
the image. For example, when looking at the photo of the little boy at the fu-
neral in Gaza (Image 1) the informants talked about the emotions aroused by
the pleading eyes of the little boy, the grief and confusion. They tried to guess
why the boy is sad and what has happened. This is illustrated in the follow-
ing quote in which Katja, a 38-year-old high school teacher, responded to the
interviewers’ question about the spontaneous thoughts and feelings aroused by
the photograph:
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Fear. Of course it evokes [fear] because I’m a mother, so this arouses a


strong emotional reaction. Fear I would want to help this little child. Why
is he there behind? This must be from some refugee camp (Katja, 38, high
school teacher).
The frame of tacit trust was not as dominant when the interviewees were
exposed to the image of the British soldier among the Iraqi civilians (Image
2). However, there were some who, in the frame of tacit trust, described the
denotation of the image. They talked about the soldier with a gun and his hand
pointing at the man carrying a child, with people sitting on the sand around
them. The respondents also discussed the relationship between these characters
and interpreted the meanings of their postures. They also talked about feelings
such as fear, distress and the horrors of war, and they talked about the possible
situation of a soldier meeting civilians in a war zone. These events seem distant
to the Finnish interviewees living in a peaceful, democratic and affluent society.
An excerpt from Aapo’s interview illustrates the frame of tacit trust, yet, there is
a tone of cynicism in his voice:
Again there are conflicts and confusion in the world when people are forced
into peace. Oh, poor them, all of them – it’s not easy being human. The
other one is doing his job there and tries to secure democracy and peace in
the world with his gun, and then the civilians have to obey this peace. And
they’re not doing that well either. They might be hungry and cold during
the night in the desert (Aapo, 41, osteopath).
The absence of the issue of trust in the interview can be interpreted as a
frame of tacit trust. Of course, one could argue, silence does not guarantee
trust. People can feel distrust without expressing it verbally. Therefore, our
analysis can only include what people say about their trust in news images and
how they say it. But it is also important to consider what they choose not to
mention: what remains outside of the chosen frame. Briefly, we define the di-
mension of tacit trust as an absence of doubt and an absence of verbal recognition
of the veracity of the news photograph or its context.

Measured Trust
Evidently, in order to analyse the cultural frames of trust there must be
some talk about the issue. Therefore, the interviewer often had to ask questions
to evoke discussion. Hence, our study simulated the process whereby tacit and

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more or less self-evident confidence was gradually transformed into measured


trust and expressed accordingly.
For Luhmann (1988: 97), trust requires a situation of risk: “You may or
may not buy a used car which turns out to be a ‘lemon’”. In contrast to tacit
confidence, he uses the word trust to refer to a reflective and active stance. We
call it measured trust when a person makes calculations or evaluations regard-
ing whether or not to trust something or someone. The possibility for disap-
pointment is understood and expressed in one way or another. In this case, the
situation of risk means that if the viewer decides to trust the news image, s/he
articulates the possibility of the risk of being deluded. For instance, there is a
possibility that the image has been made to look authentic, but it turns out to
be digitally altered. The viewer’s trust in the news medium and in the function-
ing of society is at stake. What if the newspapers distort the news events – how
can we find out what is ‘really’ happening out there? Yet in choosing the frame
of measured trust, we decide to take a risk. We trust in what we see and hear
and act accordingly.
While in the frame of tacit trust the relationship of trust was not expressed,
in the frame of measured trust the informants talked about their trust in news
images. They expressed their feelings and said that they believed in the veracity
of the image. They also often evaluated the images objectively and expressed a
relationship of trust simultaneously. The majority of the respondents said that
they trusted most news images and it did not make a difference if they were
made by professional or amateur photographers, or published in print or on-
line.
In the interviews, the first image was considered to be trustworthy. The
informants’ argument was the authenticity of the emotions. They described how
the image portrays the strong emotional state of the little child and pleads with
the viewer. The arousal of affects was seen as proof of the veracity of the photo-
graph, as illustrated in the following quote:
Well this certainly gives a first impression. This is a good photograph –
looks very authentic and the picture has captured the distress of a small
human being. Sad eyes. As it is shown here, this is very close to the idea that
a good news photo is worth more than thousand words (Aleksi, 35, actor).
Hence, the strong emotional subject matter of the image produces its
reality-effect and sense of authenticity. As Ien Ang has shown in her famous
study (Ang, 1991) of the soap opera Dallas, the emotional ties to characters
and scenes leads the viewer to interpret the narration as (emotionally) truthful
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in spite of its fictional quality. If this holds true in the field of soap operas, it is
even more plausible in the field of photojournalism.
Aleksi also used a common saying which contains the idea that the photo-
graph conveys meaning by using a non-verbal visual register which goes beyond
the representative possibilities of verbal language. This thinking also comprises
the idea of a photograph ‘capturing’ part of reality and, hence, becoming an
indexical and metonymical trace of the very same reality.
Measured trust was not a dominant frame when the interviewees analysed
the manipulated image of the British soldier in Iraq. But it was found in a few
comments during the interviews. For example, Mikael measured his trust in the
image and came to the conclusion that if the image had been fake the newspa-
per would have said it:
Well this newspaper should be [trustworthy], but I’m not sure about this.
It doesn’t say in the caption that this image was manipulated (Mikael, 15,
schoolchild).
Antero and Maija said that the faces of the people in the image seemed
trustworthy. The emotional stress of the civilians seemed real to them. Again,
the emotional appeal of the image was considered as a cue for authenticity.
People are not expected to pretend that a situation of distress and fear is real. In
all, the frame of measured trust was much less pertinent with the second image
than it was with the first image.

Contextual trust
Trust is a relationship and a complicated process which is constantly rene-
gotiated and contested. This is indicated well in the frame of contextual trust
where the interviewees evaluated and compared the various elements of the
image, the paper, media and society as a whole. A relationship of trust with
respect to a news image is also constructed through the intertextual context.
This is illustrated in the interviews when the informants compared a news im-
age to another, or to an advertisement, art image or film. News images are also
compared among different papers and different media. In general, trust arises
from the authority of the news media. When the informants talked about the
trustworthiness of the various media, they evaluated the national newspaper as
the most trustworthy and the tabloids as least trusty.
The emotions evoked by the first image were also discussed in the frame of
contextual trust. For example, this is illustrated by Mari’s comment about im-

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ages evoking emotions in general: “When you put a child with his big sad eyes
in a newspaper, compassion is aroused immediately, whatever the cause might
be” (Mari, 38, manager in a telecommunications company).
Strong emotional ties with the scene of the image may also raise questions
concerning the use and the context of the image and their effect on its truthful-
ness. This challenges the previous interpretations about emotional realism as a
component of the effect of the news image in terms of truthfulness. It seems
that emotional content may simultaneously give rise to trust in the photographic
representation itself and cast doubts about the use of the same representation.
This tension is an example of the basic distinction in the photographic image
itself. The photographic image is – at the same time – both nature and culture.
It is an untouchable indexical sign but also an object that can be used in many
different contexts and practices. Already Lewis Hine – a famous American
photographer – recognised this by saying: “Photographs do not lie, but liars
can photograph”. Some of our informants recognised this double logic of the
photographic image and the importance of emotions in the different political
uses of images.
When the image was shown without the context, some of the interviewees
said that the image of the child with sad eyes reminded them more of campaign
pictures of UNICEF or other charitable organisations collecting money for
their programmes in developing countries:
When I first saw this I thought it was an advertisement image from some
kind of a humanitarian organisation or such. I did not think it was a news
image at all, because this child is so much in the fore somehow (Tanja, 38,
special education teacher).
Taneli compared the image to other news and images of conflicts and ca-
tastrophes:
As regards whether this image is true or not, it is evident that in a place
where someone attacks you there’s a lot of human suffering and there must
be faces like that and much worse. On the other hand, I don’t see why this
would not be true where the tanks are, because I do believe that the Israelis
have plenty of tanks (Taneli, 40, entrepreneur).
The informants talked about their trust using their contextual knowledge
acquired from other news and images they had seen in other papers, on the
internet or on television. The similar message from several sources brings cred-
ibility to the issue. Teresa said that it was similar to what she had seen in the
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television news. Keijo, another interviewee, talked in a similar way about his
trust within a contextual frame, comparing different genres portraying the sor-
row of a child:
In some ways, of course, this is meant to shake people, as it creates a strong
appeal when you show a child with this kind of sorrow. It is the same on
television – sometimes your eyes fill up with tears suddenly when you see
something like this (Keijo, 62, teacher in an adult education institution).
In the case of the second image, the informants used the contextual frame
when interpreting the image and when looking for cues of trustworthiness. The
viewers interpreted the image in the context of their previous knowledge and
experiences. For example, the comments referred to the fact that these kinds
of incident, as depicted in the photograph, happen all the time in a war zone.
Humanities undergraduate student Timi described that he believed in the
veracity of the photograph because he had seen similar war scenes in films. He
also said that he had first-hand information from his brother who had worked
in the peacekeeping forces in Afghanistan. Timi continued to talk about the
political and social context after seeing the whole news page including the texts:
In this context it seems like a trustworthy picture, as I’ve seen war movies
and my brother was in Afghanistan for a long time last year in the peace
keeping forces. From what I have heard, I can imagine that this is pretty
much how it is there. This is more than what they say in the Finnish media
[...] (Timi, 22, student).
It is interesting that Timi presented an intertextual comparison of the image
to war movies. He did not distinguish between fiction and documentary, but it
is usually a common assumption that war movies are amplified in some ways.
Many of the other interviewees’ comments in the frame of contextual trust
overlap with the frame of doubt, as they suspected the propagandist purpose of
the photograph or image manipulation.

Doubt and distrust


The very last dimension of trust is the frame of doubt. Doubt is still includ-
ed in the dimensions of trust since the speaker expresses an uncertainty of trust.
However, there is a very fine line between doubt and distrust. The frame of
doubt features in our study when the interviewees made observations about the
images when they saw something uncanny or controversial. Two main objects

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of doubt can be identified. Firstly, the informants talked about their doubt with
respect to the content of the image, the choice of the images and their purpose-
fulness. Secondly, they expressed doubts when analysing the image’s technical
execution and whether it might have been digitally altered after it was taken.
However, the comment expressing doubt might contain both of these elements
and several arguments related to each image arise in the frame of doubt.
Elicited by the first image, in the frame of contextual trust the interviewees
said that the Helsingin Sanomat newspaper is reliable when considering the
veracity of a photograph. However, in many cases the comments turned into
doubt as the informants questioned the purpose of showing the particular im-
age. They were well aware – which shows their visual literacy – that news images
are selected in order to lead to a certain interpretation. The interpretation of the
image also has an effect on the interpretation of the whole issue at stake in the
article. The informants raised ethical questions about the purpose of selecting
the particular photograph. As illustrated in the contextual frame, they argued
that the image resembled an advertising image from a humanitarian organisa-
tion, as illustrated in Teresa’s quote:
Well, this arouses such feelings that it breaks my heart when I see this
child’s eyes. I don’t know what’s going on with him but he’s got very sad
eyes. So this could be used for money collection purposes because it appeals
directly to the emotions (Teresa, 53, yoga instructor).
The image is said to be suspicious because of its emotional appeal. This
is quite contradictory to what was said in the frame of measured trust, as the
emotional interpretation of the image was said to be proof of its authenticity.
In the frame of doubt, some interviewees suspected that it was possible that the
editors had taken the image from the archives when they were looking for an
image of a scared child. This was considered as a “cheap trick to appeal to the
viewers” and the edition was blamed for “child abuse through a news photo”
(Niina, 38, manager).
Criticism of the photograph as a vehicle of political propaganda arose in
some interviews. It was said that this is not pure news mediation, but that the
editorial is aiming at influencing readers’ opinions about the conflict between
the Israelis and Palestinians through the selected image. When the interviewer
asked about the meaning of the image with respect to the article as a whole,
Teresa replied:

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I think they are trying to persuade people to take the side of the Palestin-
ians. The Israeli attack was of course monstrous, but their war is not so
unequivocal (Teresa, 53, yoga instructor).
Johannes also commented on the political aim to affect the reader: “The
Palestinians are good and Israel is bad – this is what they’re after. And with this
sad looking boy they are trying to convince the reader” (Johannes, 45, maths
teacher).
The interviewees very seldom doubted that the image had been altered. In-
stead, they expressed doubts about the origin of the photograph. They said that
the image of the boy may have been taken from another situation and added to
this context and this particular news item. Seija said: “The boy could be from
a refugee camp or just as well from the amusement park, scared to go on the
roller coaster”. There is no proof that it was taken at the funeral as it says in the
caption. Since the photo was cropped as a close-up, the background gives very
few clues, as Taneli continued:
This image could be taken from anywhere; we cannot be sure whether this
boy has really been to a funeral. Of course I would like to believe it because
Helsingin Sanomat says so. But I can’t say whether it is trustworthy (Taneli,
40, entrepreneur).
Again there is a mixture of contextual trust and doubt in Taneli’s quote
above. He said he would like to believe in the newspaper medium, but there are
dubious elements in the picture.
In addition, the photograph of the British soldier in the Los Angeles Times
received comments on the purposefulness of the photograph. A minority of
the informants said that they believed the photograph was true; however they
talked doubtfully about the political aim of using this photograph. Yet, a more
dominant object of doubt regarding this photograph is whether or not it was
altered. In many cases, the doubts were raised already when the photo was
shown cut out of context. Many of the interviewees noticed the photo being a
little out of focus, the flatness of the colours, the surface of the image, the lack
of shadows, and so on. Paula said that “this is the first one which makes me ask
what is really going on here”. She explained that there seemed to be too many
elements in the photograph and that it was likely that the figures had been cut
and pasted from another context. Kaisa also expressed her doubt:
Well, this is the first picture that I would suspect to be manipulated. My
first impression is that not everything is matching […] I feel like Photo
Shop has been used here (Kaisa, 53, craft teacher).
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The informants talked about the image from the point of view of photo
shooting and image processing with an analytical tone. The informants men-
tioned that the image seems so unreal that “it looks almost like a painting”. It
was said to seem like a constructed performance, and therefore it is not even
appealing to emotions. Again, the emotions evoked by the image were referred
to as a cue for veracity. The frame of doubt concerning the image manipulation
was also consistent when the image was shown in its context.
When the interviewees were told in the end that the image had been ma-
nipulated, many of them responded with disapproval: “I feel like I have been
cheated”, says Seija. Niina also had a very strong judgement regarding the im-
age manipulation:
Okay, they have the guts to fuck the audience in this kind of paper. Maybe
it was the photographer, but it is the paper’s responsibility. And on the oth-
er hand, I should have known better. Actually this makes me think about
all the war situations which are so constructed by the media. This does not
surprise me anymore (Niina, 38, manager).
This speaker is saying that the whole of war communication is a dubi-
ous issue. After this, she continued to deconstruct the visual elements of the
photograph. She said that possibly with this image they had wished to give an
impression of the British soldiers in Iraq as benefactors, which would give a
political justification for the interference of the foreign armed forces with the
situation in Iraq. Niina concluded that the selection, cropping and processing
of the image can direct the meaning given to the viewers. In the end she stated:
“The photographers should shoot the kind of photo which does not need to be
manipulated – even when a certain effect is sought” (Niina, 38, manager).
The word ‘propaganda’ also appeared in the discussions when talking about
the manipulated photograph of the soldier, as it did regarding the Gaza war
image. Many of the interviewees expressed that elements of propaganda can be
identified in all news about conflicts and politics. This means graphic images
with emotional appeal. However the word ‘propaganda’ was not given only neg-
ative connotations, but Timi’s comment implies that this is taken for granted:
“The news is supposed to take a stance in some issues”. The propaganda talk
also had some humoristic elements, as Tapio explained that the image could be
from the Soviet epoch of the newspaper Pravda. He also saw some biblical con-
notations in the posture of the soldier: “Don’t be afraid, I will bring you a great
light – today a child was born to you” (Tapio, 64, retired German teacher). This
also shows the construction of doubt in context with the interpreter’s previous

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knowledge and experiences. This emphasises the importance of knowledge of


different media and genres regarding the viewer’s visual literacy.
In the discussion about the manipulated image of the soldier, the inform-
ants said that the revelation of this case causes distrust in news images and
media in general. “After this one you start suspecting every single image”, said
Mari. Tanja expressed her distrust:
My trust has eroded so much that I do not know if I want to buy that pa-
per at all. And it would not have crossed my mind that a paper like the Los
Angeles Times would do image manipulation (Tanja, 38 special education
teacher).
On the other hand, many of the interviewees said that trust may be pre-
served despite a few occasional cases. A single case does not ruin the trustwor-
thiness of the entire medium. Like many others, Tanja said that if the paper
takes responsibility over the issue and bears the consequences, one single case of
image manipulation may be forgiven and forgotten.

Conclusions
People usually tend to choose a trusting approach, since it is the grounds for
the basic security for all human beings. It would be very difficult to distrust eve-
rything in everyday life; distrust makes us feel unhappy and unsafe. A trusting
outlook is a presupposition as long as suspicious cues are not perceived in the
surroundings. The fact that it is taken for granted also makes it very difficult to
study trust. It seems to be easier to explore why and how distrust develops than
how trust is constructed in a positive sense.
Our study shows that trust is not only a question of trust versus distrust.
Trust is a multidimensional process, ever evolving in each situation of social
interaction. We have used as our starting point the distinction between confi-
dence and trust by Niklas Luhmann (1988) and developed four frames of trust
with respect to two foreign news images from newspapers. But the frames are
not fixed; they change and take new forms in different situations and contexts.
The dimensions of trust are also often overlapping. We have separated them for
the sake of analytical clarity.
The first image of the little boy at a funeral in Gaza, elicited mainly frames
of tacit, measured and contextual trust. Yet the frame of doubt was more pre-
sent here than with the other news photos in the interviews. The image was not
suspected of manipulation. Instead, doubt was expressed regarding the pos-
sibility of the image being taken from another context and used for emotional

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appeal in order to influence the political views of the readers. The interviewees’
analysis of the image and its possible aims reveals that they are visually liter-
ate. They are aware of the media’s way of possibly representing reality from a
perspective which is not necessarily neutral. This could be an example of what
Coleman (2012: 36) defines as the second order of trust which is at the core of
the tension between contemporary news production values and news consump-
tion frustrations.
The second image, a photograph of the British soldier with refugees in Iraq,
evoked many doubts about photo manipulation. More than half of the thirty
informants expressed their doubts about the veracity of the photograph already
when they saw it without the context. They suspected and some were even cer-
tain that the image had been manipulated. When the full context was shown,
most of them kept the same viewpoint, and a few of them said that they trusted
the news image when they saw the context with the logo of the newspaper. Less
than half of the thirty informants did not express any doubt about the image
processing before they were told about the manipulation of the image.
The comments on the manipulated image are mixed and controversial.
Some of the respondents expressed disapproval of the photo manipulation.
But some just said that it does not matter so much. The informants were aware
that image processing is part of photography today. They were pondering on
the ethics of the photographer’s actions, and some said they would accept this
because the situation of the photo had not been changed.
An interesting and controversial finding of the study is that the emotions
aroused by the news photographs evoked both frames of trust and doubt. In
the first three frames of trust, the emotions were regarded as proof for the au-
thenticity of the photograph. Truth based on personal experiences, feelings and
subjective judgement is a trend in today’s popular and political culture (van
Zoonen, 2012: 57). A personal or amateurish touch in news photographs has
also proven to be judged more trustworthy in our other study (Puustinen &
Seppänen, 2011). In contrast, in the frame of doubt the viewers said that the
same emotions of sorrow and despair evoked doubt and ethical questions. The
image was seen to be aimed at manipulating the viewer’s political views on the
situation. Many of the interviewees said that the news article with the little boy
attending a dead child’s funeral in Gaza was an attempt to persuade the reader
to favour Palestinians in the conflict. Emotions were also regarded as suspicious
because of a possible connection to commercial persuasion. In a factual news
genre, the emotional address is considered dubious. Although it has been prov-
en that the news has become more entertaining and contains affective elements,

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the informants seemed to have internalised the classical journalistic ideals, as


they expressed a desire for the neutrality and objectivity of the news.
The paradoxical nature of emotional content was very clear. On the one
hand, it reinforced the realistic and hence trustworthy impressions of the im-
age. On the other hand, strong emotional content raised questions about po-
litical uses of the image. This vacillating position of the photographic image is
grounded in its nature as an indexical sign. The indexicality of the photographic
image means that it has been a material part (‘fragment torn away’, ‘physical
connection’) of the object it represents. This semiotic quality equips the photo-
graphic image with an exceptionally strong evidentiary potential, which could
be used in different social practices. In a sense, a photograph acts as circum-
stantial evidence (e.g. fingerprints), which is inevitably physically connected to
presence at the scene of the crime. Hence, the emotions expressed in the image
are – in a sense – even physically present for the viewer. The indexicality of the
photographic image is an essential part of photographic common sense and a
basis for the trustworthiness of photographs. However, indexicality is seldom
consciously expressed as such. It is part of our tacit and non-verbal expectations
concerning the nature of the photographic image. Furthermore, the indexical
power of the photographic image may be misused as well.
As a result of the study, we found that the frames of tacit trust, measured
trust and contextual trust are most common among the Finnish interviewees.
The high scores in trust is not a surprising finding in the context of a democratic
and affluent society with a relatively high level of freedom of speech. How-
ever, surveys in other European countries such as the United Kingdom show
that people’s trust in media has been severely eroded due to the recent media
scandals (Coleman, 2012). Yet the situation is different in Eastern European
countries, where the polls indicate lower trust in all social institutions includ-
ing the media (e.g. Čuvalo in this issue). The Finns still have relatively high
trust in governmental and economical institutions (Borg, 2007) but the British
people’s trust in government and media has dramatically declined. Trust is the
foundation of the social relationship of being a citizen in a society. “Unless we
can trust the news media to deliver common knowledge, the idea of the public
– a collective entity possessing shared concerns – starts to fall apart” (Coleman
2012, 36). A certain level of trust is crucial for the functioning of the media
and society as a whole.

30 CM : Communication Management Quarterly : Časopis za upravljanje komuniciranjem 26 (2013) 11–32 © 2013 CDC and author(s)
Liina Puustinen, Janne Seppänen The image of trust.

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32 CM : Communication Management Quarterly : Časopis za upravljanje komuniciranjem 26 (2013) 11–32 © 2013 CDC and author(s)
Trust in the author:
Identity, expertise and reputation

Tereza Pavlíčková1
Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic

doi:10.5937/comman1326033P

Summary: The diverse character of sources available online requires media us-
ers to employ strategies of interpretation to establish whether the particular source is
trustworthy or not. Yet this might be rather problematic in the case of user-generated
content, where readers may have no previous experience of authors who are unknown
to the reader, and moreover, the author might be hidden behind an online identity.
Building on Luhmann’s theoretical concept of familiarity as a necessary pre-condition of
trust, the study draws on qualitative interviews with young professionals on their cross-
media consumption; the analysis reveals that the respondents, as media users, establish
an imagined author as part of the process of interpretation. The concept of the imagined
author is developed theoretically using Genette’s concept of paratext. It is thus the reader’s
realisation of the author that belongs to the text as a paratextual feature, and is clearly
formed of three qualities perceived by the audience: the author’s identity, expertise and
reputation. The ability to establish these qualities in the author helps the users to place
the imagined author within a broader context of previous experiences, establish famili-
arity with the text and therefore decide whether they will place trust in the text or not.

Keywords: audiences, author, media use, new media, trust

Introduction
In the current media environment, an increasing amount of information is
produced and available to media audiences, and so is the diversity of sources
and authors that produce or/and distribute the media content. Traditional and
established media outlets are contested by alternative, independent and com-

1
tereez@gmail.com

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Trust in the author: Identity, expertise and reputation Tereza Pavlíčková

munity media (Carpentier, 2005) as well as individual media users who con-
tribute to media production themselves by creating original texts or adapting,
altering and twisting existing ones (e.g. Jenkins, 2013; Bruns, 2008). Audience
research primarily conceptualises audiences’ contributions to media production
as a form of media use and is primarily concerned with the question of how
various platforms are used by media users to challenge political decisions (e.g.
Bakardjieva, 2011), the motivations audiences have to produce particular media
content – for example Markman (2012) focusing on independent radio pod-
casters – how various media platforms are used and how the roles of producer
and consumer are negotiated within that space (e.g. Burgess and Green, 2009).
Thus, audience research either deals with audiences’ reception of text and then
neglects the author, or is concerned with audiences’ use of media in the form
of production, and discusses the authorial power of audiences. However, there
is a lack of research that questions audiences’ reception of texts produced by
other audience members in order to access information and knowledge about
the social world.
Despite information being variously linked together as a sort of explicit in-
tertextuality, the connections and links between different texts (media contents)
are rather arbitrary, lacking any structure or hierarchy (Dreyfus, 2001); the text
seen by one user may never be seen by another. It is up to audiences to navigate
through the landscape of texts and information in their media use; they need
to make sense of them, interpret them and, moreover, decide whether to place
trust in them.
Audiences’ decisions about their media use depend on a constellation of
multiple factors at play at the given moment – e.g. availability of information,
its relevance, whether and by whom it is recommended, whether it conveys
the reader’s existing opinions, and the reputation of the author. These are not
objective factors but are rather perceived by media audiences (Hertzum et al.,
2002). The decision to (dis)trust is a relationship established by the reader with
respect to a text and is thus present in all of the factors determining the use of
media. In this article, I argue that the author – and more specifically his or her
intertextual presence – is important for audiences’ decisions to trust in media
and hence their media use.
From the audiences’ perspective, establishing trust in an online text might
be rather problematic. The internet is a platform where circulating content is
produced by very diverse types of sources, such as the one-off contribution of
an anonymous person, an established author publishing under an online pseu-

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Tereza Pavlíčková Trust in the author: Identity, expertise and reputation

donym, or the media brand that is familiar to audiences from other platforms.
In order to access and gain information, media audiences have to be willing to
place trust in the mediator of the information, the source and the author who is
presenting the content to them. Therefore, much can be questioned by the user:
the identity of the source, his or her expertise and knowledge, the accuracy of
the information and even the perceived authenticity of the account. All of these
have a bearing on whether trust is established or not. These questions are not
unique to the online context; however, the assumed systems of accountability
that are familiar in the context of traditional media are lacking in the online
environment with its diverse sources. Moreover, there may be a perceived illu-
sion of proximity and/or even intimacy with the producer of online content,
especially in case of social media, that would otherwise be typical of interper-
sonal communication, even though the communication within social media
does not offer the ‘depth’ of social informa­tion that people encounter in offline
interpersonal communication, as explored further by Quandt (2012).
Consequently, I argue that by exploring the characteristics and qualities of
online authorial presence that are acknowledged and perceived by media users
and are subsequently used by them to establish trust in the source, we can bet-
ter understand the conditions that lead to audiences’ decisions to place trust
in media. In this paper, I ask how users’ perceptions of the authors of factual
content influence their decisions to trust, focusing in particular on the authors
of user-generated content. Drawing on the analysis of qualitative interviews
with twelve media users in their mid-twenties, I identify three key perceived
qualities of the author that are used by respondents when deciding whether
to place trust in the author or not: these are identity, expertise and reputation.
These qualities form what I call an imagined author, which is used by audiences
to establish familiarity with the text in order for these decisions to be made.
Firstly, however, the broader context and conceptualisation of trust is discussed
and the role of the author in audiences’ interpretations is explored within the
conceptual repertoires of audience research, before the results of the analysis are
elaborated further.

Trust derived from perceptions of the familiar


Trust is commonly defined as a relationship, an acceptance of vulnerability
to the actions of others with expectations of a particular outcome (Mayer et
al., 1995; Rousseau et al., 1998). This paper builds on the substantial literature
within sociology relating to the theoretical conceptualisation of trust (Giddens,
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Trust in the author: Identity, expertise and reputation Tereza Pavlíčková

1990; Luhmann, 1979, 1988; Seligman, 1997; Sztompka, 1999), identifying


and exploring the importance of trust for society. Seeing trust as a condition of
social relations, Giddens (1990) distinguishes between personal trust, i.e. that
between two persons, and abstract trust, which is also referred to as confidence
in institutions (Seligman, 1997). Luhmann (1988) makes a similar distinction
between trust – defined as a willingness to risk – and confidence, whereby one
does not consider alternatives. For Luhmann, familiarity is the essential condi-
tion for achieving trust and confidence.
The question of trust is not new to media and communication research, and
attention has been paid to the credibility of news media (e.g. Johnson & Kaye,
1998, 2000; Flanagin & Metzger, 2000) and the trustworthiness of news me-
dia, understood as a trust in selectivity rather than objectivity (Kohring & Mat-
thes, 2007). Within the online environment and in relation to user-generated
content, the research focuses on how trust is established in the online environ-
ment and among members of virtual communities (e.g. Henderson & Gilding,
2004; Blanchard et al., 2011), in computer-mediated communication (Tseng
& Fogg, 1999) and towards virtual agents (Hertzum et al., 2002), or focuses
on media users’ trust in user-generated content – in this instance amateur news
photographs (Puustinen & Seppänen, 2011). And despite studies dealing with
people’s use of digital and social media for their own expression, promotion and
identity building (e.g. Papacharissi, 2011; Dwyer et al., 2007; boyd & Heer,
2006), they rarely focus on recipients’ perception of information and the way
in which these perceptions are used to decide whether to trust the information.
In their study of audiences’ trust in amateur news photographs, Puustinen
and Seppänen (2011) build on Luhmann and distinguish between types of
trust that derive from the way in which one trusts – the degree or intensity
of willingness and acknowledgement of the risk that is being taken. They dis-
tinguish between silent trust and measured trust (in Luhmann’s terminology,
confidence and trust respectively); they develop the distinction further with
two additional categories: contextual trust, which is strongly linked to media
literacy, whereby media users consider and evaluate various elements of the text
(in this case amateur news photographs); and doubt, an expression of hesitation
in granting trust.
Luhmann’s conceptualisation is also further developed theoretically by Sz-
tompka (1999), who sees trust as a reflected trustworthiness of others defined
by the conditions and information that lead to establishing trust between the
giver and the receiver of the trust. This is a very useful conceptualisation when

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Tereza Pavlíčková Trust in the author: Identity, expertise and reputation

looking at the reader-author trust relationship, as he argues that one needs to


know, acquire or perceive certain knowledge in order to place trust in the po-
tential receiver (Sztompka, 1999). In the Luhmannian sense, this is undoubt-
edly easier in a familiar environment. Sztompka (1999) distinguishes between
primary trustworthiness, which is determined by reputation (past actions),
performance (present conduct) and appearance (ascribed status), and derived
trustworthiness (the context and situational factors), which is determined by
accountability and pre-commitment.
Henderson and Gilding (2004), in their qualitative study of trust relations
within online communities, employ this theoretical model and show that
reputation is indeed a source of online trust; hence it is anonymous identity
that leads to the greatest suspicion. However, as Hertzum et al. point out it in
their study of people’s trust in virtual agents, it is not the objective assessment
of these qualities but rather the perception of them that is important when
“establishing to what extent the person is willing to place trust in the source”
(2002: 12).
Luhmann’s claim that familiarity is the precondition of trust and Sztomp-
ka’s conceptualisation that this can be established by a combination of previous
(reputation), experienced (performance) and presumed (appearance) knowl-
edge gathered about the potential trust receiver creates a broader theoretical
framework for this paper. One can therefore argue that trust in the author is
important for interpretation because in order to be able to ‘read’ a text, people
need to establish not only the relevance of the content, but also the reliability
of the source (context). Despite the absence of the author in the text-media en-
counter, the author is part of the text’s context, and perceptions of that author
allow the user to establish familiarity with the text. The reader, in our case, thus
constructs an image of an author by perceiving his or her various qualities via
the encounter with the text and its intertextuality; it is through these qualities
that the decision to trust the author can be made.

The imagined author as a paratextual feature


This article argues that authorial presence co-determines the interpretation
and the meaning of the text, yet it builds on the tradition of audience and
reception research that has established over the past few decades that meaning
results from the text-reader encounter, contextualised and independent of au-
thorial intention. The author has been left out of this core text-reader metaphor.
Only recently we have seen the return of the author to the audience research

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Trust in the author: Identity, expertise and reputation Tereza Pavlíčková

vocabulary, however, only in the context of audiences acting as authors, in rela-


tion to audiences’ creative use of media with the aim of participating in various
areas of social life (e.g. Kahn & Kellner, 2004; Bruns, 2008; Bakardjieva, 2011;
Carpentier, 2011). Yet, media production in these cases is primarily researched
and studied as a sort of media use, and thus audience research is – perhaps
paradoxically – focused on the aspect of production rather than of reception.
The notion of author is absent from the debate about how people access and
interpret media texts, but when consuming media, people attribute qualities
to the media texts that are derived from their context – including their source
– and establish a relationship of (dis)trust towards the source as well. The
text-reader metaphor stays central to the conceptualisation of the author here.
Rather than being an originator of meaning, the author is understood here as
a context of the text. Genette (1997) argues that every text is accompanied by
paratexts – features that among others include the author’s name, title, preface
and comments, framing the main text and situating it within its historical and
cultural context. The reader’s knowledge of the presence or absence of these var-
ious features thus determines the reading and interpretation of the main text.
To establish the theoretical framework for researching audiences’ trust in
an author, I have introduced the concept of an imagined author that results
from the text-reader encounter, with the text bringing an author in the form
of a paratextual feature (Genette 1997), and the reader bringing their previous
knowledge and expectations of how this feature should be read. The imagined
author is therefore instrumental; it is a perception and an understanding per-
formed and realised by the reader through the process of interpretation, simul-
taneously determining the reader’s interpretation of the text. The reader thus
establishes familiarity with the imagined author of a text through perceived
qualities acknowledged in the actual text or gathered by the reader through oth-
er text-reader encounters; the imagined author is a place of the reader’s realised
intertextuality which results from the texts and paratexts available to the reader
at hand. The concept of the imagined author as the basis for establishing fa-
miliarity and trust has enabled its various perceived qualities to be drawn from
the data analysis, and below I have used illustrative examples from a qualitative
study to explore these qualities further and to discuss their role in establishing
audiences’ trust in media authors.

Methodology
This study is a part of a larger research project in which I carried out semi-
structured interviews of approximately one hour in length, with 12 young
38 CM : Communication Management Quarterly : Časopis za upravljanje komuniciranjem 26 (2013) 33–50 © 2013 CDC and author(s)
Tereza Pavlíčková Trust in the author: Identity, expertise and reputation

professionals (seven women and five men), to explore how media users navi-
gate through the media content available to them (Pavlíčková, 2012), and the
strategies they employ to establish the relevance and reliability of the texts. All
of the participants were in their late twenties, with differing careers, personal
circumstances and stages of relationships, but all childless. They all had univer-
sity education. They all use media – in particular the internet – on a daily basis
as one of the main sources of information in their everyday life, for work, for
pursuing their interests and hobbies and to learn about the world. They were
recruited using random sampling, using the researcher’s own network of friends
and acquaintances and their contacts. The research participants were asked
about their daily media use in semi-structured interviews, and all participants
were asked questions about the same topics – their daily media use and how
they make selections and prioritise the content they consume. The particular
structure of each interview was influenced by the particular responses of each
interviewee. All interviews were recorded and transcribed, and then analysed
first using an open code from which the notion of trust – as well as the notion
of respondents’ acknowledgement of authorial presence – was identified by
explicitly mentioning or implicitly suggesting an authorial presence, a source
behind the text by the respondents. After identifying these instances in the tran-
script where authors or a source of some sort and/or trust was mentioned, they
were grouped into thematic clusters and the relationship between these two
concepts was analysed. This led to identifying that respondents perceived three
qualities in order to make the author of the text familiar: the source’s identity,
expertise and reputation.
Returning to the earlier theoretical debate, the results of the analysis strong-
ly invoke Luhmann’s concept of familiarity as a necessary condition for trust-
ing, and the perceived qualities sought in the imagined author resonate with
Sztompka’s (1999) model, distinguishing three bases on which trustworthiness
is established: reputation, performance and appearance. While in his theoretical
model he refers to factors through which knowledge about the potential trust
receiver is divined, the three categories distinguished in this research refer more
to qualities that audiences need to perceive in the imagined author (a potential
trust receiver).
In order for respondents to trust a media text, they first need to establish
familiarity with it and identify features that they recognise and can be related
to previous or similar experiences so that they may evaluate the quality of the
information. In order to decide whether an author and the text is trustworthy,

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Trust in the author: Identity, expertise and reputation Tereza Pavlíčková

respondents also create an image of the author that is defined by three perceived
qualities – identity, expertise and reputation – when interpreting the text. The
imagined author is then used to perceive familiarity in the text. The qualities
refer to the respondent’s perception of who the author is, how he or she presents
the information and what others say about him or her. The reader’s assessment
of these perceived qualities determines whether trust is placed in the author
or not. In the following sections, these three categories are elaborated and ex-
plained further using illustrative excerpts from the interviews.

Identity – who the author is


This quality of the author refers to the respondents’ identification of the
author’s name and characteristics such as image, background and appearance.
Here, identity is not descriptive; instead it is a perceived quality – the percep-
tion of the imagined author starts with the reader’s evaluation of the author’s
identity. The perception of authorial presence (or absence) in the text is estab-
lished primarily through demonstration and recognition of the author’s name
and subsequently the author’s performed identity. These expectations evolve
through the respondents’ subsequent encounters with the name.
Based on the interviews, this category, of all the three categories, is the
most taken for granted by the respondents. From their point of view, there is
no need to mention it directly or to consciously acknowledge their perception
of the identity of the author. However, this category is similar to the apprecia-
tion and perception of the visual features (e.g. look, gender, age and fashion) of
the other person in a face-to-face encounter. Here, the respondents are looking
for various identifiers as well as formal and informal features that help them to
establish the imagined author’s identity. For 25-year-old Jakub from Prague,
the name chosen by certain types of source or author shows that they are not a
trusted authority and they are thus ignored:
When you get Google search results, they are sorted based on some factors
such as occurrence, frequency and priority, but I am looking at what the
source is and what the address is. If it is some diary-like blog, then I skip
it, and if it is, so to say, a serious medium, an authority, a significant source
(Jakub).
Jakub employs what could be called a first look identification. He says “I
am looking at what the source is and what the address is”. The source’s choice
of name talks to him, and he makes a judgement about the source due to that.

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He presumes and perceives various characteristics from the name already: from
the address of the web page he can establish that it is a diary-like blog, which for
him means that it has particular presumed qualities that lead to a decision to
skip it. All the interviews showed that respondents are well aware of the origin
of the source, whether it is user-generated content, the official page of a band
or organisation, or a well-known media brand. The analysis showed that the
decision to place trust is not directly related to a particular type of source but
is rather derived from the perceived qualities associated with that source by the
respondent. We can see this in the comparison between the claim made by Lu-
cie, a 26-year-old singer from Prague, and David, a 27-year-old social researcher
from London.
If you want to find information about somebody, you look at their official
web page. And all that’s there is bullshit. Stuff like ‘the best singer of all
time’. It is an advert. They do not give you space to make your own opinion
– they tell you what to think (Lucie).

You go to the Myspace website or whatever the other website is, and you
actually think, well, probably the official site is not authoritative, but at
least it is gonna tell you something that you know how to interpret because
they try to sell you something (David).
Both Lucie and David see information published on official music websites
more as the promotion of an artist rather than a genuine or authentic account.
Interestingly, the same identity or the descriptive characteristic of the source
– an official website – in these two cases leads to a different perception of the
source as trustworthy. Lucie dismisses it as a source that cannot be trusted,
because “they do not give you space to make your own opinion – they tell
you what to think”. While David, by identifying the source as an official web
page of an artist, perceives a bigger freedom in the interpretation: “it is going
to tell you something that you know how to interpret because they try to sell
you something” – he presumes he knows who the source is and thus how to
interpret it, and how to work with the information further. While for Lucie,
the established familiarity with the source through its identification leads to
the decision to distrust, David’s attitude is more complex and the established
familiarity allows him to work with the content less hesitantly.
The author’s choice of name and the way he or she presents and identifies
him/herself, are interpreted by the reader to establish the perceived quality
of the source as well as the quality of likely content indicated by that name.
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Respondents formed the identity of the imagined author based on their ex-
pectations and anticipations. When accessing a previously unknown source,
these formal features play a key role in establishing familiarity with the text. An
author’s name – whether a real or a handle name – allows readers to identify
and group together various content defined by that particular name. The notion
of the handle name usually crosses more than one medium or media platform.
The name contributes to the image of the author and leads to the notion of
continuity, persistence and therefore familiarity and subsequently expectations,
by tying together various texts and media content.

Expertise – how the author talks


The quality that we can call the imagined author’s expertise is also important
when respondents decide to trust the source or not. Expertise is the perceived
quality of the knowledge (whether general or specialised) of the imagined au-
thor. When establishing expertise, respondents are preoccupied by the author’s
performance: the way he or she talks and behaves; his or her register and lan-
guage; his or her opinions; and how the author relates to the outside world. The
quality of expertise is perceived not only through the particular text (perceived
quality of the content) but within a broader intertextual context (comparison
with other sources).
Tom, a 26-year-old Londoner who has just finished his master’s degree in
Human Rights and is planning to leave for South America soon, sees the ac-
count by a professional journalist “who has been there” to be more authentic
than other users’ testimonies about a particular experience. For Tom, the jour-
nalist is an expert – somebody who knows the problem at hand and can put it
into a broader context for the reader.
I tend not to really look at personal blogs – maybe I should. I tend to stay
away from personal opinions, really, if I can. Mostly the blogs I read are
through the BBC website. They are blogs, but most of them are written by
journalists. I’d rather read about what a journalist thinks – someone who
has been there. He knows what he is talking about (Tom).
Expertise refers to knowledge and quality of the information and content;
it is independent of the professional/amateur status of the author and can be
established with respect to user-generated content as well. Expertise as a quality
of the imagined author is established through readers’ perceptions of the way
in which the author speaks – how the information is presented and discussed.

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This is often achieved through the means of expression, using a particular style
of language or presentation of evidence and reasoning that is acceptable or
perceived to denote authorial quality, as illustrated in the two quotes from the
interview with David.
I don’t usually read discussions – it’s particular people. I do not know who
they are. You only start to make distinctions between them based on how
it is written or what evidence they use (David).

You look for how things are presented the way that is […] familiar to you.
I am sorting out stuff for a music festival and at their Facebook page you
have all the resources about camping. You know, other people are in the
same situation and you can guarantee that there will be someone who
knows what to do and tell you to buy your stuff like this and do it like that
(David).
In the first excerpt from the interviews with David he refers to the style in
which comments in a newspaper discussion are written, saying “how it is writ-
ten or what evidence they use”; we can see that he perceives the quality of the
author and thus of the text through the way it is presented. In the next quote he
does not refer to the actual style but more the circumstances determining the
nature of the information provided, saying that “other people are in the same
situation and you can guarantee that there will be someone who knows what to
do”. David trusts the source and thus the information because it is from some-
body ‘like him’ who is in the same situation, dealing with the same problem as
him: the circumstances create familiarity, helping David to partly identify with
the imagined author and to evaluate the information as trustworthy or not.
Steve, a 25-year-old married professional from London, describes whose
recommendations he follows when buying a new Nintendo Wii game. He pays
attention to how the recommendation is written and how the author demon-
strates his or her knowledge.
It needs to be from the right source and the right age group. I look at what
people have reviewed in the past. You read up on it and don’t have to agree
with it, but basically if they think the same way as I think, I’ll take them on
board. It is about whether they look at the game the same way as I would
think about the game (Steve).
Steve is purposefully seeking content from other audience members. Sub-
sequently, to make the recommendations reliable for him, he employs a system

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Trust in the author: Identity, expertise and reputation Tereza Pavlíčková

of values and hierarchies in order to identify characteristics of the reviewers,


e.g. age, opinion and what the reviewer chose to mention in his or her review.
He establishes familiarity and compares these aspects with his own expectations
and reference system. In particular, the statement “you don’t have to agree with
it, but basically if they think the same way as I think, I’ll take them on board”
shows that Steve is not looking for recommendations from a person who has
necessarily the same opinion, but rather an author who shares the same perspec-
tive and the same reference points. Even though no particular author is being
sought, the perception of authorial expertise associated with the text leads to his
trusting in an author whose identity is otherwise hidden.
Readers choose sources that they can (partially) identify with and convey
their taste, opinions and viewpoint. In this case, the expertise of the imagined
author is perceived as coming from someone ‘like me’, or when the author pre-
sents his or her arguments in a convincing way using ‘good evidence’.

Reputation – what others say about the author


The reputation of the author differs from the two previous qualities, as it
is established through other texts. The analysis reveals that there are two main
means through which readers perceive the reputation of the imagined author:
their own previous experience of other texts from the same author; and rec-
ommendations based on the previous experience of others. However, recom-
mendations need to be trusted as well, and therefore the qualities of identity,
expertise and reputation need to be perceived once again. For these reasons,
respondents tended to rely on recommendations from known sources with a
high level of perceived expertise or recommendations derived from experiences
shared by many.
Reputation is an important quality of the imagined author that is used by
the reader, because previous experiences can lower respondents’ perceived risk
of placing trust in a source, as Tom says:
If I am looking for specific information, then I would look for trusted
websites I know have provided correct information in the past, rather than
just going for new ones that look weird and that I have never seen before
(Tom).
The other strategy for establishing reputation is to rely on recommenda-
tions from already trusted, well-known sources, often known to the respondent
from the offline world, or a person they have already perceived as a trustworthy

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Tereza Pavlíčková Trust in the author: Identity, expertise and reputation

expert. This is illustrated in Rebecca’s quote. The 30-year-old English language


teacher living in London is referring to her friend’s blog and recommendations
to other bloggers and blogs she finds there.
My friend writes and has blog as well. Her blog is linked to other people’s
and young writers’ blogs and it is just nice to explore (Rebecca).
Some of the respondents establish the reputation of the unknown source
through other users’ perceptions of its expertise, relying on the multiplicity of
these voices. Therefore, various media platforms presenting and distributing
content generated by users themselves have diverse mechanisms in place that
make the user-generated content, as well as their authors, available for evalua-
tion by other users. This ranking and evaluating is encouraged by the particular
media outlet, and serves as an overview of authors’ past performances to other
media users (e.g. Amazon’s Top Reviewer Ranking where users vote on how
helpful the particular review/reviewer is), as the next excerpt shows.
This interview with Helena, a 30-year-old professional from Prague, shows
how reputation can be perceived through the volume of recommendations.
She is a frequent user of the biggest Czech user-generated website on film
(www.csfd.cz, Czechoslovak film database), where descriptions, comments and
reviews on the latest and classic films – both national and international – are
published.
The reviewers are also listed in an order based on the most appreciated and
the most relevant [in the database]. By reading them you already give them
some points. If you find the review interesting, you can have a look at what
other films the person liked. […] On the CSFD [website], it is normal
people who write it and most of the time it is more objective. Maybe a
thousand people saw the film and five hundred of them write their com-
ment there or give the film evaluation stars (Helena).
Helena tries to gather recommendations from other users of the website
whom she perceives as experts and whose opinion she values, but if this is im-
possible, the volume of voices and the repetition of their judgement is signifi-
cant for her and serves as a guarantee to her. She pays attention to stars given to
a film by the users and the number of people who saw the film.

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Trust in the author: Identity, expertise and reputation Tereza Pavlíčková

Discussion
The analysis of the data presented here shows that people acknowledge au-
thorial presence in their media use and perceive the image of the author with
particular qualities that are established through the process of interpretation,
and also simultaneously serve readers in establishing trust in the text. That is
to say, trust in the author cannot be discussed without discussing the text, yet
trust in the text is co-determined by the perception of the author. Analysis of
the respondents’ explicit as well as implicit references to the author reveal that
the image of the author is composed of three qualities – identity, expertise and
reputation – placing the imagined author within the reader’s social, cultural and
historical context. Furthermore, these qualities are subjective and are perceived
by the user rather than being objectively established. The perception derives
from and builds on users’ previous experiences, pre-existing knowledge and val-
ue systems that contextualise these qualities, relates them to users’ own contexts
and helps them to place trust in the imagined author and hence in the text. If
the respondent is unable to establish one of these qualities, the perception of the
other two can fill this absence; however, the lack of all three prevents the reader
from establishing familiarity and thus trust. The results of the analysis therefore
contribute to revealing how people trust in media as well as contributing to
wider current debates in audience research.
Firstly, by conceptualising the role of the author in audiences’ interpreta-
tions, our understanding of the text-reader metaphor that is central to audience
research is enhanced. The author is seen as ‘another text’: a paratextual feature
(Genette, 1997) that the reader interprets in order to establish textual context
and thus actualise his or her interpretation of the text itself; the imagined au-
thor is the reader’s conception – a perceived interpretation aid rather than its
owner. This idea also allows us to expand further the current research on the
use of user-generated content (e.g. Burgess & Green, 2009; Carpentier, 2011).
The notion of the author has been widely discussed in recent audience research,
primarily in the context of the blurred distinction between users and producers,
focusing on people’s creative use of media for the purposes of media production
(e.g. Deuze et al., 2007; Bruns, 2008). This research often deals with the profes-
sional/amateur divide. For example Meyers (2012) focuses on the applicability
of this divide in the current environment where more and more media users
often make their living by producing content, yet they are still perceived as us-
ers generating content rather than professional writers. Wall (2005) and Park
(2009) then show how bloggers (in this case, reporting war) purposefully dis-

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Tereza Pavlíčková Trust in the author: Identity, expertise and reputation

tinguish themselves from professional journalists. To sum up, audience research


either deals with audiences’ reception of text and then neglects the author, or
is concerned with audiences’ use of media in the form of production, and dis-
cusses the authorial power of audiences. This article has offered an insight into
audiences’ perception of authors and the qualities acknowledged by their pres-
ence in the text, and how this is further used in the interpretation of the text.
Secondly, the data analysis identified three qualities of the imagined author
through which media users establish trust in the author and in the text, i.e.
identity, expertise and reputation, which are sought in the imagined author to
establish familiarity and subsequently to decide whether trust can be placed in
the author. As mentioned earlier, this triad resonates with Sztompka’s (1999)
model of trustworthiness. Importantly, the analysis showed that the readers
interpret the author just as much as the text.
As Coleman argues: “Trust is not a universal relationship, but a socially dif-
ferentiated, experientially variable response” (2012: 38). Not everybody trusts
the same things for the same reasons. The interviews showed that people who
attempt to establish the same quality with respect to the author – e.g. his or
her expertise – might be relying on different authorial features and ways of self
presentation. For example, one of the informants, Tom, asks for authenticity,
while another, Helena, seeks objectivity. The results open many other questions
relating to the conditions that lead to people’s decisions to trust in media – es-
pecially in relation to user-generated context – that might result from exploring
particular characteristics of the author and their perception, and how these vari-
ous characteristics are reflected in establishing these key qualities. Furthermore,
the characteristics of the imagined author are often perceived in many diverse
ways in relation to different types of author (e.g. professional/amateur, individ-
ual/collective). To build on this analysis, future research might query the con-
sequences of familiarity as a pre-condition for trust, as stressed by Luhmann:
as shown by the data, relying on familiarity might lead to a subsequent lack of
alertness, whereby certain questions may not be asked and possible alternatives
may no longer be imaginable.

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Trust in the author: Identity, expertise and reputation Tereza Pavlíčková

Acknowledgments
This article was written as part of the project Specifický vysokoškolský výzkum
IKSŽ FSV UK, no 267 503. I would like to thank the reviewers and editors for
their constructive comments on an earlier version.

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Social networking sites –
(un)trustworthy news sources?

Jelena Jurišić1
Department of Communication Sciences, Croatian studies,
University of Zagreb, Croatia

Ivana Šipić2
Department of Communication Sciences, Croatian studies,
University of Zagreb, Croatia

doi:10.5937/comman1326051J

Summary: The impact of social networking sites on journalism is increasing in


Croatian journalism. The journalists are balancing between using social networking
sites as free and fast news sources, and maintaining the professional standards in news
reporting. The aim of the paper is to examine whether social networking sites can be con-
sidered trustworthy news sources and consequently, whether the media content in which
social networking sites are used as news sources should be trusted by the media audience.
The study presents a content analysis of media reports in three Croatian daily newspapers
and on three Croatian news portals on the 17-year-old Croatian girl’s disappearance in
June 2011, in which Croatian journalists used the Facebook page created by the miss-
ing girl’s family as a source. The results of the study have been used to evaluate whether
journalists have been following professional standards while using social networking sites
as news sources, and whether their practice is in accordance with the four-dimensional
model of trust in news media introduced by Kohring and Matthes (2007). Our evalu-
ation shows that the main professional standards and all of the four dimensions of trust
in media have been violated in the analysed articles.

Keywords: audience, journalism, news source, social networking sites, trust

1
jjurisic@hrstud.hr
2
ivanasipic.hs@gmail.com

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Social networking sites – (un)trustworthy news sources? Jelena Jurišić, Ivana Šipić

Introduction
Under the influence of digital technologies and a long-lasting financial
crisis, modern journalism has been increasingly turning to free, available and
fast sources, web sites, blogs, social media sites and social networking sites. As
a result of these changes, journalism practice is characterised by a great number
of violations of professional standards and professional codes of ethics.
We believe the role of professional standards is dual – on the one hand, they
help journalists do a professional job of informing the public and, on the other,
they enable the audience to trust in journalism relying on these standards in
order to make daily decisions.
The unique perspective of this paper lies in exploring the question of audi-
ences’ trust in media in a rather non-standard way. This paper is based on the
research of media content through the method of content analysis, and not on
the research of the audience. We have conducted a content analysis of media
reports on the 17-year-old Croatian girl’s disappearance in June 2011 published
in Croatian daily newspapers and on news portals, which used the Facebook
page Nestala Antonia Bilić (Missing Antonia Bilic), created by the missing girl’s
family as a news source.
The results of the study have been used to verify whether the journalists
have been following professional standards when using social networking sites
as news sources, and whether their practice is in accordance with the four-
dimensional model of trust in news media introduced by Kohring and Matthes
(2007). The final aim of the paper is to determine whether social networking
sites can be considered trustworthy news sources and consequently, whether the
media content in which social networking sites are used as news sources can be
trusted by the media audience.
We believe the findings of this paper will help to emphasise the growing
problem of trust in the era of social networking sites and demonstrate the
emerging problems which, as we argue, make it difficult for the media audience
to trust the offered media content.

The impact of social networking sites on journalism


Basic claim of news reporting is that an author should be trusted. In order
to trust a journalist, audience needs to understand what s/he is reporting about.
In their stories, journalists must provide the audience with sufficient evidence
to allow them to see the case for themselves, as well as to understand why

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Jelena Jurišić, Ivana Šipić Social networking sites – (un)trustworthy news sources?

they should believe the evidence displayed in the story (Kovach & Rosenstiel,
2011: 73). If s/he wants to be understood, a journalist needs to meet the re-
quirements of good writing – to be correct, consistent, concise, concrete, clear,
coherent and creative (Kennedy et al., 1993: 68).
Journalists are also required to follow professional standards of journalism.
They are reflecting a time in which they originate, and main principles of mod-
ern models include fairness and accuracy (Bennett, 2009; Fuller, 2010; Malović,
2005; Itule & Anderson, 2003). The list of principles introduced by Dan Gill-
mor, who identifies thoroughness, accuracy and fairness as the core principles
of quality journalism in new age of online (Gillmor, 2004: 134), along with the
subsequently added transparency (Gillmor, 2005), has proved to be the most
adequate for exploring this field. For Gillmor, the first goal of the best report-
ers is to learn as much as they can, stressing that they “… always want to make
one more call, check with one more source” (2005). But today thoroughness is
more than asking questions. As Gillmor puts it, “… it means, whenever pos-
sible, asking readers for their input” (2005). Accuracy requires a journalist to
get facts straight and “… to say what you don’t know, not just what you do”.
Ibelema and Powell stress that “the standards of accuracy and source attribution
establish trust between traditional news media and their audiences, and trust-
worthiness in this context has been shown to establish credibility” (Ibelema &
Powell, 2001, in Messner & Garrison, 2011: 123). Gillmor (2005) also defines
fairness as listening to different viewpoints and incorporating them into jour-
nalism. In order to be transparent, a journalist needs to disclose certain things,
such as financial conflicts of interest. Thus, “…another way to be transparent is
in the way we present a story” (Gillmor, 2005). Journalists should link to source
material as much as possible, bolstering what they tell people with close-to-the-
ground facts and data.
Meanwhile, digital technologies and media convergence have changed
media and journalism dramatically: newspapers are not only publishing their
articles in almost real time on their websites or tablet applications, but their
audience can check video and audio materials of a certain event almost imme-
diately after it ended. On the other hand, TV and radio channels are publishing
online articles and commentaries, and their audio and video programmes are
made available on demand in a short notice. News portals are the biggest rivals
of all mainstream media since they do not have space or time restrictions, and
can publish text, audio and video information. In recent years, social network-
ing sites have also become the source of information. As Kovach and Rosenstiel

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underline, more and more news today come second or third-hand, as journal-
ists are kept at distance from original sources by communication “managers”
(2011: 30). This brings new forms of violations of ethical and professional
principles of reporting, as, for example, legitimising suspicious social network-
ing site content as trustworthy news source (e.g. Scepanovic, 2012), or media
covering a guerrilla marketing campaign based on a fictitious romantic story
as a truthful news without prior verification (e.g. Krajačić, 2011). These and
similar situations bring into focus the question whether the public can trust
such media content.
Social network sites, as boyd and Ellison (2008: 210) define them, are
“web-based services that allow individuals to (1) construct a public or semi-
public profile within a bounded system, (2) articulate a list of other users
with whom they share a connection, and (3) view and traverse their list of
connections and those made by others within the system“.
The rise of social media and their potential impact on news is undoubtedly
one of the topics in technology attracting big attention. In a May 2011 report
analysing online news behaviour, the researchers of the Pew Research Center
“Project for Excellence in Journalism” concluded: “searching for news was the
most important development of the last decade, sharing news may be among
the most important of the next” (Mitchell et al., 2012).
Oriella PR Network’s global digital journalism study, conducted in April
and May 2012, showed that there is a significant number of journalists who are
treating social media channels as news sources and as means of validation (Ori-
ella PR Network, 2012). More than half of the surveyed journalists admitted
to have drawn on social media posts from sources they know when looking for
story ideas or angles (Oriella PR Network, 2012: 2). Globally, over half (54%)
of respondents used updates from social media sites such as Facebook and Twit-
ter, while 44% used blogs they already knew to source angles for new stories.
However, in the case of unfamiliar sources only 26% of journalists worldwide
would use social media sites and 22% would use an unknown blog as a source
(Oriella PR Network, 2012: 5).
The traditional media have been intensively searching for the best ways
of dealing with the new, completely changed media landscape. Some of the
world’s most notable news organisations, such as Reuters, Washington Post and
Associated Press, recognised the role of social media in informing the public,
and they formed different guidelines for their use. BBC went even further by
introducing the Social Media Representative as a mediator between social me-
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dia users, on one side, and journalists and editors, on the other (BBC, 2012).
Croatian media organisations still have not recognised the ambiguous impact
of social media on journalism, thus the use of social media has not yet been
regulated in Croatian journalists’ codes of conduct.
This is one of the reasons why today trust in media news is probably more
important than ever. The additional reason is the fact that modern journalism
is ‘journalism of aggregation’, which is “…built not on producing news but
on harnessing and organising existing information” (Kovach & Rosenstiel,
2011: 52). Reasons can be found in financial, as well as in cultural capital,
which is associated with class, professional status, expertise, along with legiti-
macy and credibility, gained through previous activities within the political and
media fields (Fenton, 2010: 158).
With a view to cutting costs, news organisations are reducing staff, at the
same time increasing the number of produced stories. The remaining jour-
nalists are increasingly expected to supply more and more material, taking it
from free, available and fast sources to fill the gaps more quickly (Phillips &
Witschge, 2012: 13). Phillips calls this new ‘copy paste’ culture “news canni-
balism” (2012: 52). She emphasises that audience cannot know who wrote the
original story, where the information originated from or how the source could
be checked if journalists used material without checking it (Phillips, 2012: 56).

The question of trust in media


Since the beginnings of journalism, as a profession based on searching,
checking and publishing information with the primary goal of informing soci-
ety, audience’s trust in news has been one of the central questions in this field.
Luhmann sees trust as a solution to specific problems of risk (2000: 94), and
points up its requirement of a previous engagement of a person (2000: 96). For
Rosanvallon trust is “an institutional economizer” which “eliminates the need
for various procedures of verification and proof ” (2008: 4). Trust is a precon-
dition of what Giddens refers to as “ontological security: belief in a stable and
shareable reality” (Giddens, 1991 in Coleman, 2012: 36).
Media content users have to deal with such risks on a daily basis. Since
media deal with the distant world, audiences “usually find it difficult to verify
media reports with non-media sources” (Tsfati & Peri, 2006: 170). As Kohring
and Matthes put it, “the less an issue relates to personal experience, the more
significant is the role that trust plays in the relationship between the media and
their users” (2007: 248). If the users have alternative sources, the importance of
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trust in media news is smaller. On the other hand, if the users, despite common
belief, have no alternative in social networking sites, as it will be presented in
this article, “… media dependency becomes crucial: in this case, citizens need
to trust mass media as the sole provider of information” (Jackob, 2010: 590).
Trust in media is considered to be a decisive variable by communication
researchers (Tsfati & Cappella, 2003; Tsfati & Peri, 2006; Kohring & Matthes,
2007), since it facilitates media use, moderates the relationship between media
users and content, and, by doing this, enables direct media effects. What is
more, mass media exist specifically to provide information to their public. The
societal function of news media consists of selecting and conveying informa-
tion about the complex interdependencies of modern society. By doing so, news
media enable their public to fulfil their need for orientation to their social en-
vironment and to adjust their expectations regarding other social actors. Trust
in news media is therefore a necessary condition for trust in other social actors
(Kohring & Matthes, 2007: 238). If they fulfil these roles without following
the basic rules of profession, primarily the responsibilities of trustworthy and
truthful reporting about events and information, media are losing credibility,
which results in “losing audiences, societal influence, and legitimacy” (Jackob,
2010: 590).
This is why trust in media is becoming increasingly important as a scientific
research topic. Even though the scholars previously concentrated mainly on the
question of credibility of the media, lately there have been more and more stud-
ies focusing on the trust in media. Stephen Coleman believes the trust in media
operates on two levels (2012: 36). “First-order trust involves an expectation
that news producers will do what they are supposed to do: that they will try to
tell us true stories and not made-up ones” (Coleman, 2012: 36). Second-order
trust applies to news producers and news audiences agreeing on what the news
is supposed to do.
“This second-order problem of trust is at the core of a prevalent tension
between contemporary news production values and news consumption
frustrations. This tension matters because news only works as a sustainable
feature of democratic culture if and when producers and audiences are on
the same wavelength” (Coleman, 2012: 36).
Another model of trust in news media, introduced by Kohring and Mat-
thes, assumes that news media are “continually aware of whether events of
one specialized part of our differentiated society potentially may evoke conse-
quences in other areas of the society” (2007: 239). Kohring and Matthes choose

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the term “selectivity” as the theoretical basis for analysis, while “trust in news
media means trust in their specific selectivity rather than in objectivity or truth”
(2007: 239). The authors believe that recipients’ assessment of trust in news
media is based on four dimensions: trust in the selectivity of topics, trust in the
selectivity of facts, trust in the accuracy of depictions and trust in journalistic
assessment (Kohring & Matthes, 2007: 239). We have chosen this model as
the most appropriate for treating this topic, and we shall deal with it in a more
detailed way. The first dimension – “trust in the selectivity of topics” – is associ-
ated with the selection of reported topics, implying that the recipients trust that
the news media will focus on the topics and events that are relevant to them
(Kohring & Matthes, 2007: 239). The factor of trust in the selectivity of top-
ics describes the role that trust has in making certain topics subjects of public
discussion in the news media (2007: 246).
To be recognised as news, a story needs to be relevant, useful and interesting
(Ricchiardi & Malović, 1996: 4). Different scholars introduce different values
that determine newsworthiness, but mostly the lists of values include: impact,
conflict, unusual components, prominence, proximity, timeliness and the audi-
ence (Ricchiardi & Malović, 1996: 5).
The second dimension of trust in news media is “trust in the selectivity of
facts” (Kohring & Matthes, 2007: 239). This dimension applies to the selection
of facts or background information pertaining to a topic that has already been
selected, and it comprises the contextualisation of events. It is the way in which
an event is contextualised that is relevant to this dimension (Kohring & Mat-
thes, 2007: 239, 246).
Along with the greater flow of data encountered by the public, there is a
growing need for identifiable sources to be used to verify the reported informa-
tion, as well as to highlight the most important and filter out less important
aspects and information. Instead of sorting through information themselves,
the public requires sources for which they can be certain to provide them with
true and significant information (Kovach & Rosenstiel, 2011: 48).
The third dimension of trust in news media, “trust in the accuracy of de-
pictions” (Kohring & Matthes, 2007: 240), applies to trust in verifiable and
approvable accuracy of depicted facts: “… although observations are highly
selective and their classification into ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ is not objectively assign-
able, a number of observations allow a standardized classification into ‘right’
and ‘wrong’ and are therefore verifiable” (Kohring & Matthes, 2007: 240).
This dimension solely includes the empirical verification of factual information
(2007: 246).

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The statements offered in news that are not attributed to the individuals
and institutions providing them can provoke suspicion (Carlson & Franklin,
2011: 1). Sources supply news stories with legitimacy and authority (Carlson
& Franklin, 2011: 4).
The last, fourth dimension of trust in media news is “trust in journalistic
assessment” (Kohring & Matthes, 2007: 240). In addition to the journalists’
selection of an event or information, this dimension includes explicitly em-
phasised assessments, especially in a commentary structure, which “…offer
advice as well as assessments of and appeals for action” (Kohring & Matthes,
2007: 240). It covers usefulness and appropriateness of journalistic commen-
tary not only in reference to the display format of commentary: “…commen-
tary enables an evaluative and thus highly informative classification of events”
(2007: 246). The problem with comment is its ability to infiltrate in a news
story, without the reader’s, and sometimes the writer’s, awareness, and also its
ability to be “…dressed up as a straight reporting” (Randall, 2011: 225).
Online sources have become primary sources of information, many of them
being quality publications (Li, 2006), and they have changed audiences’ per-
ceptions of media credibility. For example, already in 2001, Kiousis found that
people perceived online news to be more credible than television news although
less credible than newspapers (Nah & Chung, 2012: 717). In recent years this
phenomenon spread throughout the world, including Croatia (Čuvalo, 2010).
In a survey conducted in 56 countries, when asked which forms of advertising
they trusted the most, 92% of more than 28,000 people answered “…recom-
mendations of people I know” (Nielsen, 2012). Today, most of those recom-
mendations people get through different social media from their ‘friends’.
Quandt calls this phenomenon of growing trust in social media “net-
work trust” and describes it as trust “based on an accumulated perception of
‘personal­ized’, individual trust. Social media users generally do not expect the
other participants of social media to have a hidden agenda or to be ‘puppets’ of
a larger institutionalized entity in the background” (2012: 14). The question of
media credibility in eyes of news audiences is critical today given that the users
are increasingly able to select from a large number of sources (Nah & Chung,
2012: 718), which results in another problem:
„widespread idealised notion of networked communication and network
trust seems to miss some problems of social media and a ‘participatory’
network society – leading to a rather contradictory situation, where trust is

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given to mostly unknown, anonymous voices on the web, whereas there is


a lingering suspicion that institutionalized media are manipulative and not
trustworthy” (Quandt, 2012: 14–15).

Croatian media landscape


During the transitions of the 1990s, media policy in the European post-
socialist countries has been developing in three, occasionally overlapping
phases. The first one, being characterised by delinking the media from the
state, achievement of freedom and independence from the political realm in
most of the countries comprised of the creation and restructuring of public
service broadcasting systems and introduction of structures that guaranteed its
independence from the political and economic forces (Jakubowicz, 1995: 137
in Peruško & Popović, 2008: 169). The second phase was marked by atten-
tion focused on market developments and included liberalisation of telecom-
munications and broadcasting markets, as well as the increased entry of the
foreign capital in media markets. The attention started to shift to threats from
market developments, and the realisation that pluralism was at lesser risk from
political than market pressures. The third phase was characterised by European
integration with harmonisation of media legislature with the EU acquis in the
audio-visual field as a main activity. In this phase more attention is given to the
implementation of media legislation, which proved to be a sore point for many
countries of the region (Peruško & Popović, 2008: 169).
However, we believe these processes have not had a positive impact on
the quality of journalistic practices in Croatia, for several reasons – primarily the
authorities’ lack of interest for quality and professional journalism, followed by
the media corporations in foreign property which control most of the Croatian
media market, as well as journalists being divided along political, educational
and professional lines. These reasons have led to journalism in Croatia, as well
as in most South East European countries (Lami, 2011; Vilović, 2011), being
less ethical and poorer in quality in comparison to the journalism in, e.g., West
Europe or the USA, due to the domination of semi-tabloids and sensational-
ism. Nonetheless, the development of journalism in Croatia reflects the trends
that can be seen in the UK and the USA, and that are present on a global level
as well (e.g. Davis, 2009; Donsbach, Rentsch & Schielicke, 2009; Fuller, 2010;
Jones, 2011; Kovach & Rosensteil, 2010; McChesney & Pickard, 2011).

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Methods and presentation of the empirical data


The area of trust in media content in the age of digital technology has been
up to now examined mostly from the perspective of the audience, usually with
the survey as a research method. This article aims to offer a somewhat different
approach to this topic. By analysing primarily the media content and, addition-
ally, the social networking sites’ content, it tries to examine whether the media
content is trustworthy. We have selected a case that received significant media
attention in 2011, and was, to a considerable extent, characterised by the jour-
nalistic use of Facebook as a news source. The disappearance of a 17-year-old
Croatian girl Antonia Bilić provoked rather intensified media coverage during
the second half of 2011. Immediately after the girl’s disappearance, her family
published a Facebook page Nestala Antonia Bilić3, which soon reached nearly
44,000 page fans. The page served as a communication channel of the girl’s
family with the public, while journalists used its content for reporting.
We chose content analysis as the most appropriate research method to be
applied in the selected case to evaluate whether the Croatian journalists have
been guided by professional standards in their reporting – using trustworthy
news sources, which is their professional obligation. In this paper the social
networking site Facebook is observed primarily as a news source.
The analysis included three Croatian most read daily newspapers – Jutarnji
list, Večernji list, 24 sata, as well as three Croatian most visited news portals –
index.hr, net.hr, tportal.hr – in the period between 9th June and 26th June 2011.
The selected time period included the initial phase of news reporting on this
case; from the first report on the disappearance to the arrest of the main suspect
for the potential crime when the focus of journalists was transferred mainly to
him. In the selected period, we have found 24 articles on this topic in 24 sata,
25 in Jutarnji list, 19 in Večernji list, whereas among news portals there were 17
of these articles on index.hr, 40 on net.hr, and 22 on tportal.hr, making a total
of 147 analysed articles.
In addition to media content analysis, the posts (N=248) and the associ-
ated fan comments (average of 157.1 comments per post) published on the
Facebook page Nestala Antonia Bilić in the same period were also included in
the analysis.
Our intention was to examine if Facebook was used in the analysed articles
as a source of opinion, source of speculation, source of information, or was it, in

3
URL: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Nestala-ANTONIA-BILI%C4%86/216460628385318.

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fact, the article topic. As our study showed, when journalists used Facebook fan
page content as news source, they primarily reported on opinions and specu-
lations which were expressed by page visitors in the comments. News portal
index.hr was the only one not to use Facebook as a source of speculations, but
it did serve as a source of information in 11.8% of the articles and as an article
topic in 17.6% of them. Daily newspaper Večernji list used Facebook as a source
of information in 15.8% of the articles, and in equal portion as an article topic.
Jutarnji list is leading when it comes to using Facebook: the fan page content
was equally used as a source of opinions, speculations and information (12%),
while it served as an article topic in 24.0% of the analysed cases.
The number of sources used in the analysed articles was also one of the
questions we were interested in determining since one of the basic journalistic
principles is checking the information from at least two sources independently
from each other. American scholars suggest using even the third source to ob-
tain the maximum objectivity (Obad, 2004: 118). Our research showed that
three or more news sources were used by most of the media; ranging from
30.0% of the articles on net.hr to 45.8% in 24 sata. The exception was tportal.
hr, with 18.0% of articles containing three or more news sources. The articles
containing two sources took second place, ranging from 25.0% of the analysed
articles in 24 sata to 44.0% of these articles in Jutarnji list. The results show that
news portals dominated in the number of articles with one news source; 29.4%
of these articles was found on index.hr, 32.5% on net.hr, 36.0% on tportal.hr.
Daily newspaper 24 sata did not publish any such an article, while Jutarnji list
stands out among the newspapers with 16.0% of the articles with one source
used. While Jutarnji list and news portals index.hr and tportal.hr did not pub-
lish any article with a named source, these articles were present in a significant
portion in 24 sata (16.7%).
Our aim was to determine which news sources were used by journalists in
the analysed articles: was it Antonia Bilić’s family, her acquaintances, the alleged
eyewitnesses, i.e. people who claimed to have seen her, the police, suspects for
her disappearance, experts and other institutions, agency, other media and also
was it an editorial article, a journalist who occupied the role of a source, or did
the source remain unnamed. The results of our analysis showed that two daily
newspapers – Jutarnji list and Večernji list along with two news portals – index.
hr and net.hr, mostly used the police as a source (ranging from 65% to 93%
in their reports), then to a slightly smaller extent they used the family and ac-
quaintances of the missing girl along with experts and other institutions. These

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sources were used by all of the analysed media. With the exception of tportal.hr,
all daily newspapers and news portals used Facebook as a source. This practice
was most frequent in Jutarnji list with 32.0% articles in which Facebook served
as a source. Jutarnji list also proved to be a negative extreme with 80.0% of the
articles in which journalists occupied the role of sources, which indicates the
abuse of their function and position. In addition, unnamed sources were used
in 40.0% of the articles.
Results concerning the number of sides presented in the analysed articles
indicate that usage of three or more sources does not necessarily mean that all
sides included in a problem will be represented. None of the analysed media
had all the sides represented in their articles even when there were more than
two sources. In such cases ‘more sides’ were least represented in the articles
found on tportal.hr (36.0%), while there were 80.0% of these articles in Jutar-
nji list. On the other hand, Jutarnji list published the least number of articles
with one side of the story represented, and tportal.hr had the most, 64.0% of
the articles with one side of the story.
In the case of representation of the sides included in the analysed case, the
results show that the following three sides were most frequently represented:
the police, family and independent experts. When analysed separately, it can
be seen that there were primarily two sides represented in one article. Among
the news portals, index.hr represented two sides included in the story – the
police and family, net.hr mostly represented the police, while tportal.hr did not
represent either side since its primary sources were agencies, and the articles
published on this portal mostly represented one side. Among the newspapers,
Večernji list represented two sides – the police and family or independent ex-
perts, 24 sata also represented two sides – the police and family, while Jutarnji
list did not actually represent any side since its primary sources were its own
journalists as well as unnamed sources.
The case of the Croatian girl’s disappearance included in our study was
mostly covered by the media in an informative way. We found a minimal num-
ber of commentaries and analytic reports; they were present only in 24 sata and
Jutarnji list, amounting to 4% of the analysed articles. Nonetheless, the journal-
ist’s goal in 26% of the articles in 24 sata was to analyse or comment the event,
while these articles comprised 54% of the analysed articles in the daily paper
Jutarnji list. However, the analyses and conclusions offered by the journalists in
these newspapers could not be properly supported since most of the analysed
articles were informative genres, such as news and reports. These genres, with a

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goal to inform about the event, and not to analyse or comment on it, comprised
96% of the analysed articles in both of these daily newspapers. All other media
included in our analysis, apart from news portal net.hr, contained some ele-
ments of the event analysis, even though, looking from the perspective of news
genres, there was no article in a form of commentary. Despite the fact that news
is not supposed to offer author’s opinion (Malović, 2005: 194), it was present
in 40% of the analysed news in daily newspaper Večernji list, in 12% on news
portal index.hr and 10% of the articles on tportal.hr.
Since the news reporting was primarily induced by the disappearance of
Antonia Bilić, the main thematic focus of the articles in all of the analysed
media was expectedly the progress in search for the missing girl. It was present
as an article topic in the range between 55% (Jutarnji list) to 82% (tportal.hr)
of the articles. The goal of newspapers 24 sata and Jutarnji list to induce an
emotional reaction among their audience can be recognised from the range of
topics dominating the articles. Along with the progress in search for the missing
girl, other dominant topics in 24 sata were Bilić’s personal characteristics, her
disappearance, her family and the reactions of the public to her disappearance.
Jutarnji list showed an increased interest in the progress of searching for Bilić,
her disappearance, family, reactions of the public, speculations on her destiny,
as well as the support shown by the fans on the repeatedly mentioned Facebook
page. All the analysed media, with the exception of the news portal tportal.hr,
were interested in the support shown by the Facebook page fans, among them
primarily Jutarnji list (28%).
To illustrate the articles, the analysed daily newspapers and news portals
most frequently used a photograph showing Antonia Bilić which was first
published on Facebook fan page of Bilić’s family. However, in most cases it was
not noted that the photograph was obtained from that page (see Image 1). The
source of the photograph is not provided in more than a half of the articles in
24 sata (56.3%) and Jutarnji list (64,4%), and in a slightly less number of arti-
cles in Večernji list. This daily newspaper cites Facebook page as the photograph
source in one third of the analysed articles (36.4%). The news portals index.hr
and tportal.hr name the source in more than 90% of their articles, while net.hr
does not in 57.8% of articles. Still, Facebook has never been cited as a source,
even though the family photo of Antonia Bilić was used in 24.8% of index.hr’s
articles, and 45.5% of the articles published on tportal.hr.

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Image 1: The identical photograph of the missing Antonia Bilić with differently cited sources
published in different media (sources: index.hr, 9 June 2011; index.hr, June 10th, 2011.;
Facebook fan page Nestala Antonia Bilić, June 9th, 2011; tportal.hr, June 9th, 2011).

The results have shown that the question of authorship of the analysed articles
was problematic as well. Two out of the three analysed news portals signed the ar-
ticles as editorial text in 72% (net.hr), or 93% (tportal.hr) of the cases. The author
of the articles on index.hr has always been signed with initials (100%).

Discussion
The results of our study will be analysed in relation to the basic principles of
the journalistic profession. We will try to examine whether Croatian media fol-
low professional standards introduced by Gillmor (2005), as well as the condi-
tions of Kohring and Matthes’s four-dimensional model of trust in news media
(2007). The first standard, which Gillmor refers to as thoroughness, should be
characterised by as many sources as possible in an article. Our research showed
that most of the analysed media very frequently used three or more sources.
Two sources used in an article were the second most common. Usage of only
one source was dominant in the news portals, while the newspaper 24 sata
stood out with the rather high number of articles with no source specified. On
the other hand, according to Gillmor (2005), for online media thoroughness it
also means asking readers for their input. The results of our study showed that

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Croatian online media do not allow the audience to provide their input – the
social networking sites are rarely used as news sources in these reports, whereas
the dominant sources are agencies or the reports are in fact editorial articles. On
the other hand, their function is to a certain extent fulfilled by Croatian main-
stream media, which, when using social media content, are mostly interested in
reporting on users’ comments and speculations, without prior verification, thus
breaching professional standards.
Accuracy requires the journalist to get the facts straight. The facts need to
be suppported by credible sources. And yet, among the news portals, tportal.
hr mostly used agencies as news sources, net.hr used other media. While index.
hr mostly used the police sources, the second most common news source was
the author of the article him/herself. The dominant sources in Večernji list are
the police and the girl’s family, most of the articles in 24 sata include the police
and the author of the article as sources, while Jutarnji list mostly uses unreliable
sources. The journalists were the sources in 80% of their own articles in Jutarnji
list, while 40% of the articles in this newspaper included unnamed sources.
These results show the violation of accuracy in the analysed Croatian media.
Fairness is characterised by listening to different viewpoints and incorpo-
rating them into articles. We found a minimal number of commentaries and
analytic reports, which is not enough to make conclusions about fairness. Still,
the journalists’ goal in a quarter of news and reports in 24 sata, and more than
half of them in Jutarnji list was to analyse or comment the event. For that pur-
pose, the authors of the articles used exclusively their own opinions, ignoring
the professional obligation of using different viewpoints. On the other hand,
as they mainly covered three sides (the police, family, friends and experts), in
each of their reports there were two sources. The police and family were the
dominantly covered sides on one news portal and in one newspaper, but in
other analysed media there was always one irrelevant side along with one of the
aforementioned sides. We have also found a number of articles with no sources
of the author’s viewpoint.
The third professional standard introduced by Gillmor (2005) requires the
journalist to link to source material as much as possible in order to be transpar-
ent. Beside the fact that one third of the articles had only one source, particu-
larly on news portals, the analysed media, especially Jutarnji list, also showed to
be non-transparent as they were using their own journalists as sources and un-
named sources. The last example of non-transparency is the photo of the miss-
ing girl which her family first published on the Facebook page. All the analysed
media downloaded it and frequently used it, but in most cases it was not stated.

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The aim of this paper was also to examine the results of our study in rela-
tion to Kohring and Matthes’s four-dimensional model of trust in news media
(2007). As was explained earlier in the article, the first dimension of trust is re-
lated to the selection of reported topics. The main thematic focus in the articles
of all analysed media was expectedly the progress in search for the missing girl.
It was present as an article topic in the range between 55% (Jutarnji list) to 82%
(tportal.hr) of the articles. The rest of the topics were irrelevant, without the
value of newsworthiness. Some media gave a significant space to irrelevant top-
ics, such as fan comments retrieved from the Facebook pages, their speculations
about the event, reactions of the public, etc. Jutarnji list was leading in the us-
ing of Facebook; the fan page content was equally used as a source of opinions,
speculations and information (12%), while it served as an article topic in 24%
of the analysed texts. All the analysed media, with an exception of the news
portal tportal.hr, were interested in the support shown by the Facebook page
fans. This was specially the case with Jutarnji list.
The second dimension of trust applies to the selection of facts or back-
ground information pertaining to a topic and it comprises the contextualiza-
tion of events. The non-transparent use of photographs and unreliable sources,
such as unnamed sources found in the analysed articles along with numerous
similar examples, restrains this kind of trust in Croatian media.
Next to trust in the selectivity of facts, there is the third dimension which
stands for trust in verifiable and approvable accuracy of depicted facts. Even
though most of the articles are based on two, three or more sources, the articles
with one or even no source are also present in all the analysed media, as was
presented in our study.
The last dimension of trust in media news is the trust in journalistic assess-
ment. In the analysed media a minimal number of commentaries and analytical
reports were found. However, some of them, especially newspapers 24 sata and
Jutarnji list had a goal to analyse or comment the event in significant number
of their news and reports. This kind of mixing information with the comments
is not in accordance with journalistic ethical standards which require their strict
separation. This practice misleads the audience, hindering it to trust the jour-
nalist’s assessment.
In sum, the results of our study show that a significant number of articles in
Croatian newspapers and on Croatian news portals is characterised by violation
of professional standards of journalism and other requirements for the trust
of the audience in the media. Therefore, we believe there are good reasons to
doubt that audience will trust this kind of media content.

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Jelena Jurišić, Ivana Šipić Social networking sites – (un)trustworthy news sources?

Conclusion
Digital technology innovations and economic crisis has brought changes in
journalism, in functioning of newsrooms, as well as in the very profession. On-
line revolution brought about new media journalism and new platforms, giving
the media an opportunity to chase the audience and enter the spaces where they
can be found – Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other social media.
As presented in our research, social networking sites are increasingly be-
coming a source that journalists mostly use for plagiarism and for taking users’
opinions and speculations. Social networking sites and other social media have,
therefore, become a new platform for spreading the “churnalism”, as Davies
defines the new practice of journalists becoming passive processors of what-
ever material comes their way, “whether real event or PR artifice, important or
trivial, true or false” (Davies, 2009: 59).
Multiple increase of number of news media and apparent decrease of media
content quality resulted in the greater, not lesser, need for truth in the new
century, because the likelihood of untruth has become much more prevalent
(Kovach & Rosenstiel, 2011: 48). This also brought about new challenges for
audience, which – every time it uses the media – needs to ask itself: ‘What can
I believe here?’
The worrying decline in trust in media can be noted in Croatia. According
to the survey conducted by GfK Croatia, one of the leading Croatian market re-
search companies, at the end of 2011 only 21% of citizens trusted media. This
number further decreased by September 2012, when the percentage of citizens
who trusted media fell to 18%. The number of those who did not trust the me-
dia in 2011 was 54%, while that number reached 60% in 2012 (GfK Croatia,
2012: 2). In our research we have found some possible reasons that contributed
to this situation. Undoubtedly, they primarily include violation the professional
standards: thoroughness, accuracy, fairness and transparency (Gillmor, 2005),
as well as incapability to satisfy the four preconditions of trust in news media:
trust in the selectivity of topics, selectivity of facts, accuracy of depictions and
journalistic assessment (Kohring & Matthes, 2007).
The audiences give their trust to journalists, based on a sense of how likely
or how well the trustworthiness has been performed. The question that inevita-
bly arises after our evaluation is whether the Croatian audience can trust media
which, by uncritically using social networking sites as sources, are seriously
breaching professional standards of journalism.

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Trust in the diverging, convergent
multi-platform media environment1

Guy Starkey2
Centre for Research in Media and Cultural Studies
University of Sunderland, United Kingdom

doi:10.5937/comman1326073S

Summary: Issues around trust and the media are becoming ever more acute as
audiences in the developed world are faced with increasingly diverse sources of news and
comment, which form part of a rapidly changing mediatised environment. Convergence
promotes the consolidation and extension of strong and trusted brands across different
platforms, yet those brands operate within increasingly competitive markets. In broad-
casting, the old state monopolies and public/private duopolies were previously more eas-
ily operated and regulated than today, whereas now the internationalisation of content
delivery means certain voices and platforms can be trusted more than others which have
also become easily accessible. Print media benefited from self-regulation and economic
gate keeping, in which only the most credible titles could be sustained by the market,
whereas now almost anyone can self-publish online at little expense. However, the truth-
fulness and trustworthiness of even heritage media brands was rarely incontrovertible.
For audiences, this period of rapid change can either be empowering or bewildering as
they must develop skills in media literacy in order to become their own content editors,
filtering out if they can from a cacophony of voices, those which can and cannot be
trusted. This they often do, but frequently in a way that is brand led, rather than based
on increased media literacy.
The implications of what is often termed ‘progress’ for representation and for
democracy are considerable. This paper uses evidence from the context of the United
Kingdom to suggest ways in which audiences might be adapting to increased diversity
of news sources. It also adds an important caveat to the notion of increasing plurality
in the mainstream media: that institutional and economic forces have between them
significantly eroded plurality through mergers and acquisitions in the traditional media
industries whose main platforms remain print, television and radio.
Keywords: trust, media, convergence, divergence, radio, television, newspapers,
online, brand, audiences
1 
The first draft of the paper was presented to the COST Action conference ‘New challenges and methodological
innovations in European media audience research’, held at the University of Zagreb in April 2011. It draws upon
and re-contextualises earlier research for the book Balance and Bias in Journalism: Representation, Regulation and
Democracy (Starkey, 2007) and Local Radio, Going Global (Starkey, 2011).
2
guy.starkey@sunderland.ac.uk

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Trust in the diverging, convergent Guy Starkey
multi-platform media environment

Introduction
This paper considers the implications for trust of the increasingly challeng-
ing media environment facing today’s audiences. If they are aware at all of the
challenges they face, individuals within these audiences find themselves need-
ing ever greater levels of media literacy when seeking to access information and
experience ‘realities’ which they cannot witness at first hand without some ele-
ment of mediatisation by a ‘proxy’. In making sense of controvertible issues and
mediatised ‘realities’, they are already implicated in the “double hermeneutic”
previously identified as problematic by Giddens (1984: 284), but some old cer-
tainties around the trustworthiness of those who mediate as proxies have gone,
as the range and the nature of would-be mediators have changed dramatically.
Just whose representations can be trusted as being accurate, ‘unbiased’ and at
best not misleading, in an age in which we are aware more than ever of what
Porlezza and Russ-Mohl labelled “the toll of inaccuracy” (2013: 57–8)? The na-
ture of competing ‘realities’, the nature of ‘bias’ and the role of media producers
as proxies was explored in detail in Starkey (2007: xvii), but in the years which
have intervened since that text was written, much about the media landscape
has changed – and some of it would be unrecognisable to individuals within
even the audiences of 2007, were they not to have witnessed its evolution over
the period of time which has elapsed since then. Since Giddens wrote of the
double hermeneutic in 1984 almost two decades have passed, and trust is open
to abuse as never before. Some studies correctly suggest that the correlation
between trust and believing that the regular selection and retelling of what we
term ‘the news’ is a complex one, with clear implications for the social actors be-
ing represented – and, in the case of the way politics is reported, for democracy
itself (Coleman, 2012). In the way that Barber sought to rationalise the ways in
which trust may be deserved or undeserved (1983), some representations and
some proxies are untrustworthy in either systematic or random ways: they may
be undeserving of their audiences’ trust because their intentions are malign or
the processes behind their creation of content are insufficiently robust to resolve
the considerable tensions between ontology and epistemology (Scott & Usher,
1993: 63).
There are other issues here: as Campus suggests, the impact of ‘opinion lead-
ers’ can be subject not only to the influence of mass media, but also to political
discussion in personal networks and small groups (2012), the growth of which
in electronic contexts has been exponential in the past seven years. Further-
more, where mass audiences once had little choice but to gather round large-

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multi-platform media environment

scale providers of mediatised content, today social networking often takes on


some of the characteristics of traditional publishing and broadcasting because
of the long reach and growing share of attention of some of the most popular
platforms, such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. The way a single electronic
post on a public or semi-public platform can be forwarded so extensively that,
in the popular term, it ‘goes viral’, has much in common with a broadcast, if
not actually the simultaneity that first gave the act of broadcasting its name.
This means that now it is not only broadcasters and publishers who may dis-
seminate content with the impact that until relatively recently only broadcast-
ing and publishing could achieve, with all the implications this has for trust in
a “network society” (Quandt, 2012), or perhaps a ‘networked society’. So, the
question posed by Tsafati and Cappella (2003), “Do people watch what they do
not trust?” is further complicated by the notion, compelling as it is, that many
individuals within audiences are not in a position to know whether they should
trust a particular source or not – or at least, whether or not they realise it, they
are unlikely to be in possession of sufficient information to know which sources
they should trust and which they should distrust. Trustfulness and trustworthi-
ness in democratic societies are both interdependent and subject to cultural
influences in the manner suggested by Sztompka (1998), and in the case of
the growing numbers of providers of mediatised content, often such cultural
influences can be dependent on branding, as we shall see. Unfortunately, where
present and where it might act as bulwark against cultural influence, a blanket
cynicism among individuals who might be characterised as ‘educated’ does little
to resolve the essential epistemological issue raised above around establishing
‘realities’, when what van Zoonen terms “I-Pistemology” (2012) intervenes
and an often random mix of virtual experiences online convinces some of those
individuals within audiences that they can know distant realities from the com-
fort of their own keyboard. Ironically, when asked whom they trust, few people
are able or inclined to admit their ill-preparedness to make such a judgement:
an extensive 2006 opinion poll by GlobeScan revealed differing levels of trust
in media and in government among the populations of ten different countries,
but very little equivocation – especially in the case of traditional media, with
less certainty over news websites and internet blogs (GlobeScan 2006). This
phenomenon is of course both predictable and quite reasonable because behind
trust lies a personal assessment of someone else’s trustworthiness. However, we
need to be clear about its implications.

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Trust in the diverging, convergent Guy Starkey
multi-platform media environment

Trust in a shrinking world, and a changing environment


Trust was once placed hegemonically in some, who were subsequently ac-
corded trust by the audiences they attracted. More precisely, in broadcasting,
the old state monopolies and public/private duopolies which developed over
the middle of the last century were given to those whom governments trusted,
and because of the trusted positions they occupied (as the state broadcaster or
the holder of a commercial franchise), they in turn became trusted by their
audiences, who began to associate the brand they recognised with trustfulness.
These broadcasters may have seemed fairly benign, as they emerged to increase
public access to ‘realities’ they were unable to experience for themselves at first
hand. However, in the majority of countries which considered some measure of
‘fairness’ in their broadcasting systems to be desirable so as not to impede the
proper working of democracy, various systems were established by which they
could be regulated over ownership and/or content.
Regulation of multiple broadcasters, or the operation of a state monopoly
broadcaster – whether for democratic purposes or simply to preserve a political
status quo – was much easier than it is today, simply because the old monopolies
and even the regulated duopolies have long since been overtaken by the varied,
even crowded media landscape of the plethora of sources which are now accessi-
ble to audiences in most of the developed world; the extent of which is typically
suggested by Fenton’s discussion of news sources and the parallel phenomenon of
mass self-communication, mainly through social media (2012: 133–6). While
noting that larger audiences tend to be concentrated around relatively very few
sites, Fenton cites data from the alexa.com ‘top 1,000,000,000 sites’ rankings,
suggesting that even in under-developed regions and the few remaining au-
thoritarian states, audiences are able to access a greater variety than ever before
of sources of ad hoc and formally streamed content offered to them at least in
the manner of broadcasting, which does not necessarily have to be broadcast but
may indeed emanate from within or outside international borders. Of course, it
would be interesting to consider to what extent variety of provenance represents
true diversity, especially when the top two ‘alternative’ news sites are ranked
36,694th and 61,148th respectively out of all websites on the internet. Plurality,
though – somewhat paradoxically – derives from the mere existence of alterna-
tive voices in the media landscape, as opposed to the extent to which they are
listened to, but in this current discussion of how comparatively effective previ-
ous state regulation or provision of broadcast media were in democracies and

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multi-platform media environment

for despots alike, in restricting the number of voices audiences could access, it
seems clear that the present is very different from the past.
Certainly, technological advance has played a significant role in this, but
changing societies and both established and emerging trends in the develop-
ment of popular culture are also of some considerable significance. The migra-
tion of media production and distribution technologies into the digital domain
has continued apace since 2007, bringing new challenges and opportunities
to a range of mass media (Franklin, 2011: 1–9). Where once only a privileged
minority had access to the means to broadcast or publish content to more or
less receptive audiences, today only the most resistive or technologically disad-
vantaged of individuals remain isolated from the burgeoning plethora of con-
tent providers who choose to situate themselves within the broadly convergent
paradigms evolving from the old, mainly discrete traditions of broadcast and
print media. That is, ‘new’ media, despite their remaining ‘new’ in few mean-
ingful ways, continue to expand the potential for audiences to interactively
benefit to a greater or lesser extent from the communication and distribution of
compressed and customisable mediatised content, some of it having previously
been archived and some of it exhibiting at least an element of ‘liveness’ (Crisell,
2012). Since 2007, the development of Web 2.0 has noticeably hastened the
realisation of Canadian scholar Marshall McLuhan’s prediction, made as long
ago as 1964, of an increasingly mediatised world resembling an ever-shrinking
‘global village’, an evolution with both positive and negative results despite
McLuhan’s clearly controvertible reassurance that it would not be a homogenis-
ing influence on societies (2001: 334). While McLuhan’s vision of the ‘global
village’ was understandably limited to his contemporary experiences of the
power of electronic communication media to enable rapid flows of informa-
tion and opinion over far greater distances than could previously be imagined,
digital technology – and particularly social media with their foregrounding of
individual citizens’ opinions – has significantly weakened the geographical bar-
riers to communication between peoples that once seemed almost insurmount-
able without great expense on travel and accommodation.
We shall shortly examine in greater detail the phenomena described above,
embellishing that detail with relevant quantitative audience research data de-
rived from industry sources and public opinion polling in the UK, using robust
sample sizes and methodologies that are rarely problematised as being contro-
versial. In essence, this analysis represents a limited national case study – albeit
one with considerable potential for generalisability to other national contexts.

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Trust in the diverging, convergent Guy Starkey
multi-platform media environment

Firstly, though, and as this is the main focus of this thematic edition, let us
consider briefly what might be the implications of such rapid change – having
in all likelihood now progressed way beyond the initial imaginings in the 1960s
of McLuhan – for the issue of trust. Certainly some governments and their
associated state apparatus for the operation of civil society have demonstrated
themselves to be more trustworthy than others, although of course we are now
entering into a highly subjective arena in which personal perceptions of motives
and perspectives, and even what constitutes democracy, let alone reality, may
differ quite significantly among individuals within audiences.
For example, before and until shortly after the lifting of the metaphorical
‘iron curtain’ that left Europe politically divided in two between the end of the
Second World War and the early 1990s, the more authoritarian governments
of the Soviet bloc used state broadcasting to reinforce rigid adherence to the
single-party dominance of communist ideology. To many individuals among
their populations, this was an appropriate response to their recent history and
the more damaging influences of earlier, monarchist or tsarist regimes, as well as
what they perceived to be the pervasive capitalist imperialism of the West. Even
today, there are reports from the former eastern bloc of widespread nostalgia
for the communist era (for example Todorova & Gille, 2012). Others, though,
resented the state control of informational and editorial broadcast content, es-
pecially but not only where it impacted upon the ability of the state to control
whole populations or of others to exert counter-influences. Yet, beyond those
individuals within audiences who would prefer to be subject to state control,
and of course those who are simply uninterested or incapable of interest in
playing some role in determining their own futures, there are those who value
democratic principles highly and wish to a greater or lesser extent for them to
be supported and sustained by the media of mass communication rather than
limited or damaged by them. In the communist East, the early resistance of
many people to the imposition of their own state broadcaster by tuning in to
foreign radio stations, many of them propagandist by nature, is well document-
ed (for example Nelson, M. (1997)). In such cases, the incursive broadcaster,
such as Radio Free Europe, was clearly trusted more than the indigenous state
broadcaster (Starkey, 2007: 115-21). Some state broadcasting regulation has
been more effective than that in other countries at bolstering, even if not actu-
ally securing, democratic principles in the way, until recently, the privileged
few have been able to use their disproportionately large share of voice in the
arena characterised by Habermas (1989) as the “public sphere”. Whereas now,

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multi-platform media environment

the increasing internationalisation of content delivery means audiences face a


far wider choice of sources, among which certain voices and platforms can be
trusted more than others. The end of the old state broadcasting monopolies and
duopolies was decisively heralded by the development of satellite broadcasting
technology, which enabled television as well as radio to be broadcast across
wider areas than those permitted by the physics of terrestrial transmission, in
defiance of the need for virtual line of sight proximity between television trans-
mitter and receiver: by effectively positioning the transmitter on a geostationary
satellite situated in the Clarke Belt nearly 36 kilometres above the equator, the
transmissions can be received by anyone equipped with a suitable receiving dish
over a much larger line-of-sight ‘footprint’ that ignores regional and national
boundaries, geographic topography and – crucially – any state regulation in
place in any of the countries situated within the footprint. The second major
step in the internationalisation of television has been broadband connected-
ness, in that the internet has now provided us with an almost worldwide virtual
‘footprint’ that is dependent not on line-of-sight transmissions, but on cabling
– with, of course, the added enhancement of mobile phone technology that
now offers some portability of the content disseminated in this way. Only such
draconian state intervention as the banning of satellite dishes or the censoring
of certain sites or genres now stands between producer (or content aggregator)
and audience, so regulation of ownership, share of voice or content is in most
territories at least unthinkable if not actually impossible.
In print, the challenging economics of the production and distribution of
newspapers and magazines have constituted (and still do) an effective gatekeep-
er for entry into the industry because only those investors with deep enough
pockets to launch printed paper titles and sustain them through almost inevita-
ble and probably lengthy bedding-in periods of heavy financial losses have suc-
ceeded in making an impact on some already crowded national markets. This
‘market model of accountability’ was rationalised by John Stuart Mill in 1859
as a bulwark against toxic government control of the press, and hence a guar-
antor of freedom of expression, because only newspapers of good repute and
broad appeal would survive (Brants, 2013: 21). In the UK, for example, only
the October 2010 launch of the ‘compact’ national paid-for daily newspaper
i has so far bucked the trend of arguably promising new launches resulting in
huge losses and then closure, established since the 1980s exploitation of ‘new’
print technology by Today, The News On Sunday and The Sunday Correspondent,
which lasted nine years, seven months and ten months respectively. As Brants

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goes on to observe in more general terms, Mill might be less confident in the
principle today (Brants, 2013). While many observers might have felt that
this implicit economic gatekeeping, as opposed to the relatively heavy-handed
regulation of content and ownership in broadcasting, has sufficed to restrict
activity in the print industry – particularly in the case of newspapers – to only
responsible proprietors and so, editors, the recent revelations in the UK dur-
ing the course of the 2012 Leveson Inquiry, Culture, Practice And Ethics Of The
Press (Leveson, 2012), and parallel police investigations suggest otherwise, with
phone hacking and corruption among their worst excesses and a lack of clarity
over processes and ethics among the more benign.
When Leveson reported his findings, a key recommendation was that self-
regulation by the UK press should be overseen in terms of its effectiveness by an
arms-length body, itself underpinned by statute, in an attempt to restore trust-
worthiness to the industry through ‘backstop’ legislation. One guest speaker in
the BBC Reith Lecture series, Onora O’Neill, had already called for greater ac-
countability of the press than was afforded by self-regulation, in order to restore
public confidence in the newspaper sector. She had argued that “press freedom
should not be a licence to deceive” (2002: 81–100) and she reprised this theme
a decade later as Leveson was about to report, adding that: “It is reasonable to
require the media to be open about their processes – as they often demand of
others” (2012). Consider, though, the implications for trust of the differences
between self-regulation and no-regulation: outside the print domain, if it is
only online, almost anyone has at least the potential to become a newspaper
publisher, editor or journalist, as we shall consider shortly, and the only ‘back-
stop’ to what they might say lies in certain narrow aspects of the criminal and
civil law which hardly touch on issues of representation and misrepresentation.
For now, however, let us merely note that at the heart of the recent UK con-
troversies over the working of the press, lies the paradox of broadcasters being
regulated over content while the print industry has traditionally been allowed,
as in many other markets, to regulate itself. This has not been without success
from the perspective of developing trust in the print industry, though: evidence
from the ten-nation poll suggested that in nine of the ten countries, with the
exception of Brazil, newspapers were the second-most trusted after national
television, with public radio coming third (GlobeScan, 2006). The same survey
found that news websites and internet blogs were the least trusted overall in
2006 – although it is likely, if unproven, that since then audiences have become

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more familiar with these new sources of news and information, and become
more inclined to trust them.
So, if the relatively newly liberalised landscape of multiple proxies for indi-
viduals within audiences, with the plethora of more or less mediatised versions
of experiences of realities which they offer to represent on behalf of those in-
dividuals, no longer benefits entirely from whatever regulation or gatekeeping
might previously have provided at least some element of responsibility (or what
is commonly termed ‘professionalism’) in mass mediatisation, what does this
mean for trust and the media? What are the democratic implications for audi-
ences in the diverging, convergent multi-platform media environment of today
and tomorrow as the effect of economic gatekeeping and regulation on repre-
sentation is weakened and the nature and motivation of producers – many of
them relatively anonymous – becomes ever more difficult to remotely discern?

Trusted brands and the problematic dichotomy


of media convergence and divergence
While much is being written and postulated around the phenomenon of
media convergence, there is less recognition in current literature of the effects of
a parallel divergence in provision in the increasingly crowded media landscape.
Where once new digital technologies – and public access to them – were almost
universally applauded, they are belatedly becoming recognised as problematic
(for example, in Curran, Fenton & Freedman, 2012). To abandon, at least
temporarily, the metaphor of a landscape, the advances in technology and the
disruption of previous boundaries and impediments to producer access to non
co-located audiences that we have already begun to consider here, mean that
those audiences are in essence being confronted by increasingly diverse choices
between content sources. Where once a form of news reporting of events that
could not be witnessed personally, but which a proxy was prepared to represent
on an audience’s behalf, was available relatively quickly from a small number
of radio and television broadcasters and then perhaps in more depth and ac-
companied by more considered reflection in a small number of competing
newspapers, now audiences are faced with many more representations of those
events and others which might previously have gone unreported or been given
significantly less prominence. This, and the trend for audiences to increasingly
become distracted from traditional news media, is regularly documented in
the United States by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press,
whose September 2012 survey found ‘online/mobile platforms’ had overtaken
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radio and newspapers when respondents were asked “Where did you get news
yesterday?”. While television still led online/mobile platforms by 55% to 39%
(because measuring reach allows individuals to be double, triple and in this case
quadruple-counted), the prevailing trend meant television looked increasingly
vulnerable as a medium (Pew, 2012). Some necessary caution over these find-
ings requires us to note that among the sources of online/mobile news will be
traditional media brands which audiences are accessing via less rigid and per-
haps more portable platforms, allowing timeshifting and mobile phone brows-
ing of content. Such a notion is certainly suggested by the alexa.com web traffic
data considered by Fenton (2012: 135) and almost continuously available on-
line, which showed a BBC site to be ranked 44th in the world, but the essential
point here is that the newer platforms are allowing new sources to enter the
market, with at least considerable potential for discovery by audiences looking
for proxies to re-present otherwise unreachable ‘realities’ for them.
Furthermore, relatively well-established media brands are even being chal-
lenged on older platforms, and it is to these traditional media platforms and
the effects on them of changes in the media market that we now turn our at-
tention. For example, one, two or three national broadcasters, either publicly
owned or commercial, or both, might previously have been the only sources
of television news reporting in a given national market, with the possibility of
some additional, licensed and perhaps regulated, regional or local television sta-
tions. Now (to continue to maladroitly confine ourselves solely for reasons of
space to English-language provision), the choice of available broadcast sources
might have been extended to include such international broadcasters as CNN,
Euronews, RT, Fox, France24, Al Jazeera, CCTV News, DW-TV, NHK World
and many others, including in the case of financial news, Bloomberg and
CNBC. Variations of such competing sources are of course now also available
via internet and mobile platforms, although the content is likely to have been
re-versioned to accommodate the constraints of data transmission and screen
display size by which these newer platforms remain mostly hidebound – at least
at present. To complicate matters, the originators – or producers – of these con-
tent sources themselves appear to be increasingly diverse in nature and in most
cases increasingly difficult to identify. Some of these content sources benefit
from being recognisable, and potentially relatively trusted, brands about the
platform convergence of which much has been written, because that conver-
gence enables such well-established examples as the BBC to reach audiences
through increasingly large numbers of routes – bringing, for example, pictures

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to audiences on the move or overseas who would have previously had to rely
on the audio-only commentary of radio. That the BBC should now be in com-
petition as a news provider to UK and international audiences with not only
its established domestic rivals, ITV and Sky, but also with state broadcasters in
France, Germany, China and Oman among others, is an example of the parallel
divergence of sources in which lies our essential dichotomy. Some individuals
within audiences will attempt, with greater or lesser levels of success, to divine
the identity and the nature of those new, alternative content sources – and an
interesting obstacle to this has been the recent re-branding of Russia Today as
‘RT’, but it seems reasonable to suggest that many others will not – levels of
media literacy differing greatly between individuals. Viewers using the Sky plat-
form, for example, can access both Sky News and Fox News, both being under
the influence to a greater or lesser extent of Rupert Murdoch, but the latter
being a relay of a very lightly regulated American news channel with a heavily
biased right-wing agenda and a tendency to bias that would be unacceptable to
the UK regulator, Ofcom, for any nationally targeted service. Paradoxically, any
or all of these sources could be subjected to some form of formal audience trust
assessment, perhaps in the manner suggested by Kohring and Matthes (2007),
by which we might establish a rank order of how much they are trusted, but
in practice that would not necessarily reveal to what extent they are worthy of
that trust.
Certainly, the BBC, among other ‘heritage’ broadcasters could be forgiven
for adopting a relaxed attitude to the existence of this new competition. The
long-standing tendency of UK audiences to choose the BBC over its domestic
commercial rival, ITV, when a major news event occurs is well documented.
For example, recent BARB data suggested the live 2011 royal wedding cover-
age peaked at 19.3 million on BBC1 and at 6 million on ITV. The relatively
recent entry into the market of new news providers appears to have done little
to dent the BBC’s market share of television news, although the existence of a
wider range of programming, including entertainment, sport, premium movies
and so on has provided more and often more attractive alternative choices to
news coverage, so that the 28.4 million audience for the 1981 royal wedding of
Charles and Diana probably set a high watermark that will be difficult for a sin-
gle UK broadcaster to reach in future. Not surprisingly, the ten-nation survey
of trust in the media confirmed the BBC to be the most trusted media brand in
the UK (32%), followed by ITV (8%) and Sky News (7%) (GlobeScan, 2006).
This research preceded of course the extraordinary crisis in public confidence in

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the BBC in the autumn of 2012, when revelations of historic, systematic pae-
dophilia by a BBC presenter, often on BBC premises, caused dramatic declines
in levels of trust in the corporation among UK citizens. In November 2012
the opinion polling organisation YouGov found that for the first time since it
began researching this issue more people distrusted BBC journalists (47%) than
trusted them (44%) (Kellner, 2012) because by then the scandal had impacted
upon the BBC’s own reporting of it and the organisation’s systems of govern-
ance, culminating in the resignation of the then Director-General, George En-
twhistle, and further controversy around his financial compensation.
That may well, however, prove to be a temporary phenomenon and the
2006 GlobeScan survey is far more representative of long-term trends in the
UK, with the BBC consistently enjoying far greater levels of trust than its com-
mercial competition. Many of today’s UK television viewers will remember the
time before the launch of Sky News, but in 2006 ITV had had fifty years since
1955 during which to establish itself as a trusted, heritage brand. This might
be explained by evidence in the same survey of a wider preference for public
service broadcasting over commercial broadcasting when asked about trust.
Table 1 shows official BARB audience data in a relatively typical week in 2012
for the main television channels accessible by substantial numbers of individu-
als among UK audiences and which provide news bulletins (although in most
cases, news is not the only content broadcast by the channel but it may be the
only context within which some viewers encounter television news). For the
avoidance of confusion: it is arguable whether time-shifted or HD variants of
main channels should be considered in making comparisons between individ-
ual broadcasters, especially as the definition of reach means viewers are double-
counted (or rather, multiple-counted) because individuals rarely view a single
channel to the exclusion of all others. ITV1 benefits in the audience data from
the timeshifting of content allowing later access to its news bulletins through
ITV1+1, whereas BBC1 does not. Statistically, in considering these data and
the relative strength of different brands, it would be misleading to aggregate the
reach for the base channel and its ‘+1’ variant because of the inevitable overlap
between the paired channels’ audiences. Demonstrably, though, the newcomers
into the UK news market barely register in the audience data, and despite the
considerable ongoing brand marketing of Sky, Sky News achieved just over half
the reach of the BBC News channel. Sky’s reach was, though, the clear leader
among dedicated, non-BBC, rolling news channels.

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Table 1: Weekly reach of the main UK television channels


providing regular news bulletins, week commencing 27 August 2012 (source BARB).

Weekly Reach Weekly Reach


Channel
000’s %
BBC 1 46,718 81.4
ITV 1 37,556 65.4
ITV 1 +1 9,536 16.6
ITV 1 HD 4,186 7.3
Channel 4 39,085 68.1
Channel 4+1 11,383 19.8
Channel 5 28,861 50.3
Channel 5+1 4,606 8.0
Al Jazeera English 596 1.0
ARY News 437 0.8
BBC 3 18,144 31.6
BBC 4 10,406 18.1
BBC News 9,739 17.0
Euronews 293 0.5
Fox News 276 0.5
RT 452 0.8
S4C (Welsh) 570 1.0
Sky News 5,359 9.3
Other non-BARB reported channels 14,588 25.4
Other viewing 51,789 90.2

Part of this predominance of the formerly analogue terrestrial channels


which now find themselves situated on digital platforms with a range of others
may be attributed to the means of access to live television broadcasts through
digital platforms, because the positioning in the numerical order of the many
channels on the on-screen Electronic Programme Guide (EPG) relegates many
of the newer entrants to the market to relative obscurity. In the UK, BBC1 ap-
pears variously as channel number 1 or 101, depending on the platform (for
example, Freeview, Sky, Virgin or Freesat), while ITV, Channel 4 and Channel
5 are also located among the first few choices with which audiences are nor-
mally faced when switching on receivers. By contrast, the lesser known – and
therefore relatively obscure – channels can take some finding and are much less
likely to be happened upon by viewers by chance. In the UK, the importance
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of the EPG in raising awareness of a channel is recognised to the extent that


some EPG positions are subject to regulation by Ofcom. Similarly, the official
government backing being afforded to a new tier of local television channels for
which competitive franchise bids were being considered at the time of writing
has led to their being pre-allocated channel six (or 106) on the official EPGs,
in order to mitigate the possibility of their disappearing into relative obscurity
soon after their initial launch publicity fades from memory. It is interesting
to speculate on the importance of EPG positioning to the established televi-
sion brands, and whether the BBC, as the most conspicuous of them, would
maintain its reach and market share if its main channels were instead relegated
to obscure channel numbers. Parallels exist with this privileging of established,
heritage channels in other markets. Another example is that of France, where
the official TNT platform accords the first seven positions to, in order, TF1,
France 2, France 3, Canal Plus, France 5, M6 and Arte, almost exactly mirror-
ing the channels’ original numbering on tuneable analogue televisions and their
usual positioning in printed television listings in newspapers and magazines.
Paradoxically, no such official intervention is involved in determining the rela-
tive prominence of different print titles at the traditional consumer interface,
which is entirely the result of their being physically placed within or out of easy
reach – often randomly – on shelves by newsagents or in-kiosk newspaper ven-
dors, although some titles do benefit from point-of-sale display material which
can even apply the publication’s branding to part or all of the retail outlet. Yet,
even in the absence of an ‘official’ or state ranking of websites, the common on-
line search engines do implicate different parameters in the way sites appear in
lists of search results. Often, as is the case with Google, for example, sponsored
links will appear at the top of the selection, subverting any other criteria used
in the placing on the page of non-sponsored links, which may appear according
to their popularity in past search referrals or the nearness of the search terms to
key words in the documents.
We are, therefore, unable to determine at present the overall balance of
influence on individuals in audiences of recognisable – and, for example in
the case of the BBC which normally scores highly in this regard, trustworthy
– branding against visibility and the mere possibility of being happened upon
among an ever-broadening range of choices. However, at least one effect of
the proliferation of content providers we have already identified in the televi-
sion market can be measured. Table 2 shows how BARB data suggest that the
market share of key heritage brands has fallen significantly over the period in

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which the multi-channel television environment has developed, in a similar


way to that in which the BBC’s ability to draw audiences to the weddings of
youthful royals has also fallen in response to the pull of growing numbers of
alternative sources of distraction, be they offering coverage of the same events
or something entirely different, such as web content, electronic games or even
such non-mediatised activities as extended shopping and pub opening hours.
Interestingly, it is the BBC’s former main commercial rival, ITV, that has suf-
fered the greatest decline in market share over the twenty years between 1992
and 2012, while it is the original minority analogue terrestrial channels, BBC2,
Channel 4 and Channel 5 which have experienced the smallest declines in
market share. The mainly subscription-funded commercial broadcaster BSkyB
is represented in the BARB data as one of the ‘others’ whose combined growth
over the period has been spectacular.
Table 2: Viewing share of UK television channels in the January of selected years,
1992-2012 (source BARB).

BBC1 BBC2 ITV Channel 4/S4C Channel 5 Others


1992 35.1 9.3 43.1 9.3 - 3.2
1998 31.0 10.8 31.7 11.2 3.1 12.2
2004 24.2 9.4 24.2 9.5 8.3 24.4
2008 22.6 8.1 19.2 8.2 4.5 37.4
2012 21.8 6.7 15.4 6.7 4.0 45.4

Many of the brands which cumulatively have so successfully challenged the


established ‘heritage’ television channels have themselves become established
relatively quickly. Examples do include Sky, who now dominate the UK televi-
sion market not because of Sky News, but because of near-monopolies of pre-
mium sport coverage and first-run movies, as well as vast budgets for marketing
the wider Sky brand. But of greater interest here in the wider media landscape
would be Google, MSN, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon and others who
all offer mediatised content that is mainly very different to broadcast television,
but who have all built their audiences by way of distraction from traditional
televisual, radiophonic and printed forms of information and entertainment.
Most importantly, those new media brands which have come to dominate
their own online market, and so impact substantially on the worldwide atten-
tion market place, are all very new and so lack any real ‘heritage’ impact. Yet in

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spite of that, they have, in relative terms, eclipsed the myriad alternative online
brands that are available on the internet, among them thousands of compara-
tively amateurish websites that are seldom visited in large numbers.
In print, the rise of the internet has contributed to falling circulations,
reduced page counts and the closure of newspaper titles where the income
from advertising could not support the costs of production. What Bogaerts
and Carpentier label the “high-modernist” phase of journalism has now passed
(2013: 62–3). The response from much of the print industry to advances in
digital communication technology has been to make content available online,
and to present content in forms other than text, graphics and still images. The
best-resourced now routinely offer audio and video content online, usually
presented within genres developed in radio or television broadcasting, such as
location reporting to a single camera and edited news packages, as opposed to
developing their own bespoke genres. The element of interactivity afforded by
the internet is reflected in their exhortations to their audiences to comment
on stories or to offer material for publication through the website, be it pho-
tographs, copy or merely story leads for professional journalists to pursue if
they wish. Although such titles do attract additional advertising through their
web presence, most have struggled to monetise this additional use of existing
content, and the cost-benefit of the web presence is difficult to reconcile with
any impact it might have on the circulation figures or the paid-for advertising
revenues of the primary printed product. It is impossible to be certain whether
the newspaper’s website draws more readers to the print version or is damaging
to the print circulation figures because individuals choose to access the content
online free of charge rather than buy it on inky paper. In the now widely ac-
cepted sense of media convergence, radio stations and television channels also
make content available online, even in such under-developed regions as Africa
(as evidenced in such studies as Damome, 2011).
Paradoxically, the traditional media all have their imitators online – even
though these imitators normally lack their own print and broadcast versions –
because online the traditional economic barriers to entry have almost complete-
ly disappeared. The public relations departments of different businesses, large
and small, also make their own subjective representations of their products and
services through the internet, presenting realities which are convenient to their
commercial interests, whereas they could not otherwise transmit broadcasts or
print and distribute their own newspapers or magazines because of the great
costs and institutional barriers involved in entering into such traditional com-

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munication markets. Now there are also a plethora of interest groups and pres-
sure groups which represent their own private opinions and versions of realities
online. Of specific concern to this current discussion are the web news services
– often self-styled as ‘hyperlocal’ by nature – and the many ‘citizen journal-
ists’ who present their own news, often without the benefit of any journalism
‘training’ that might enhance the possibility of some objectivity pervading their
reporting and their editorial comment. Some content aggregators, and even
news aggregators, are merely automated web pages which use metadata to draw
in and display content provided by others, without any editorial intervention
between the original source which first posted the content and the aggregator’s
page which relays it to new audiences under its own bespoke branding. For
individuals accessing this content, its provenance – and its reliability – is often
very difficult to discern.
To avoid any misrepresentation of the reality being described in this paper,
though, it is important to enter a caveat by noting that one important feature of
the burgeoning professional and ‘cottage’ media industries offering mediatised
content online, in print and distributed to audiences via broadcast means is a
concomitant consolidation of many of the very existing providers we have just
identified. The example of the UK, the surface of which we have only begun to
explore here, is one that is generalisable in many ways to a large number of oth-
er countries, and in the book Local Radio, Going Global (Starkey, 2011) media
divergence was reconciled to some extent with the very convergent, globalising
or homogenising trend that, as we noted above, according to McLuhan, would
not impact negatively on the shrinking “global village” (2001: 334). In televi-
sion, in parallel with the creation of additional channels and the consequent
development of the multi-channel environment, the most popular channel
in terms of its audience share in 1992, ITV, has, through a series of mergers
and acquisitions ending in 2003, been reduced from a regionally organised
federation of up to fifteen separately owned companies to a single major con-
glomerate, ITV plc, which now serves the whole of England and three smaller
associated companies which operate on the national peripheries of Scotland,
Northern Ireland and the Channel Islands. This institutional consolidation has
to some extent damaged pluralism in UK commercial television in a way which
runs counter to the divergence of media ownership and access we have already
identified elsewhere.
The ownership of the UK’s local and regional press has likewise been subject
to significant consolidation, as illustrated in table 3, which presents Newspaper

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Society data from July 2011 to demonstrate a convergence of ownership which


may be directly attributed – since it often stems from falling print circulations
– to the divergence of available, but alternative, sources of news, information
and entertainment. In many cases, what were once wholly independent, locally
owned newspaper titles which developed in local communities that were re-
flected in their printed content, had been subsumed by the four largest owners:
Trinity Mirror, Johnston Press, Newsquest Media Group and Northcliffe Me-
dia, who between them owned 719 out of the 1,167 titles published in 2011,
with a combined weekly circulation of 29,660,908. Only 153 titles were owned
by a small number of relatively small ‘independents’. Declining local ownership
of newspaper titles has led to increasingly homogenised approaches to produc-
ing content within each publisher’s portfolio of titles, with the imposition of
standard practices and an obvious loss of distinctiveness in style and content
in many of them. Some feature material is syndicated across titles, with little
regard for geographical and cultural difference, which might previously have
been better reflected on the pages of the different newspapers now owned by a
large group.
A similar trend has been evident in privately owned commercial radio,
where a small number of major groups now own large numbers of stations
which were once locally owned and locally programmed, with much produc-
tion having been concentrated in news and programming ‘hubs’ (Crisell &
Starkey, 2006), and in the case of Global Radio, content that is made to sound
local in different geographical markets but which largely originates from Lon-
don in a way that we might reasonably refer to as a form of reverse glocalisa-
tion. The clones of a single quasi-national brand such as Heart or Capital were
once individual entities, commercial radio companies spawned and developed
in local markets but now largely bereft of the distinguishing features which
previously made them more reflective of local taste and cultural and political
difference (Starkey, 2011). This consolidation of UK commercial radio broad-
casting is described in detail in Stoller (2010), following successive relaxations
of regulation exemplified by the rationale for change argued in Ofcom (2004),
and illustrated by the large numbers of local and regional licences held by the
largest groups, as shown in Table 4.

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Table 3: UK local and regional press ownership, July 2011 (source: Newspaper Society).

Rank by
Number Weekly
weekly
of titles circulation
circulation

1 Trinity Mirror plc 168 10,889,071


2 Johnston Press 253 7,046,685
3 Newsquest Media Group 183 6,399,077
4 Northcliffe Media Ltd 115 5,326,075
5 Associated Newspapers Ltd 1 3,628,870
6 Evening Standard Ltd 1 3,009,800
7 Archant 69 1,812,760
8 D.C. Thomson & Co Ltd 6 1,612,089
9 The Midland News Association Ltd 17 1,608,258
10 Tindle Newspapers Ltd 74 1,133,678
11 Iliffe News & Media 40 1,018,954
12 Independent News & Media 6 507,559
13 NWN Media Ltd 14 446,843
14 CN Group Ltd 10 371,229
15 Bullivant Media Ltd 9 369,717
16 Kent Messenger Ltd 18 355,937
17 Irish News Ltd 1 265,332
18 Dunfermline Press Group 14 224,214
19 Clyde & Forth Press Ltd 14 214,671
20 Topper Newspapers Ltd 1 212,793
Total Top 20 publishers 1,014 46,453,612
Total other publishers 153 1,529,774
Total all publishers (87) 1,167 47,983,386

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Table 4: Station ownership and control by the principal UK commercial radio groups* in
January 2011, shown by analogue licences held and national broadcast brands operated,
whether available through analogue or digital-only means (source: Starkey, 2011). * Ex-
cludes digital-only groups/stations, such as Planet Rock and UCB.

Number of commercial National broadcast radio brands


Group
analogue radio licences held operated, analogue and digital

47 FM (including Classic The Arrow, Choice, Classic FM,


Global
FM), 23 AM Galaxy, Gold, Heart, LBC, XFM
Heat, The Hits, Kerrang, Kiss,
Bauer 24 FM, 13 AM
Magic, Q Radio, Smash Hits
GMG 13 FM Real, Smooth
11 FM, 4 AM (including
UTV TalkSport
TalkSport)
Absolute Radio, Absolute 80s,
Absolute Radio 1 AM (Absolute Radio) Absolute Radio 90s, Absolute Radio
Classic Rock, Absolute Radio Extra
The Local Radio
Company Group 13 FM
(UKRD controlled)
Lincs FM 9 FM
UKRD 4 FM, 1 AM
Sunrise Radio, Kismat Radio,
Sunrise Group 4 FM, 3 AM
Punjabi Radio
Tindle Radio 9 FM
Town & Country
7 FM
Broadcasting
Quidem 6 FM
KMFM 7 FM
Orion 5 FM, 3AM
CN Group 3 FM

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multi-platform media environment

Conclusion: Trust among audiences facing a


potentially bewildering range of content providers
Notwithstanding the important caveat above, if, however, we accept that
the general trend over the last two decades of advances in the application of
digital technology to the mediation by proxies of realities audiences cannot wit-
ness personally, has been one of exponential growth in the number and diversity
of content sources, what are individuals within those audiences to make of the
increasingly diverse range of providers of news and information? In turn, what
effect might this often bewildering range of choice have on the proper working
of democracies around the world? One of the main issues in which Leveson
showed the greatest interest during his protracted inquiry in 2011/12 was that
of editorial decision making in the mainstream UK press being influenced by
proprietorial control and, in turn, by the often very close relationships between
editors, proprietors and politicians (Leveson, 2012). Arguably, these are some
of the key players in any democracy, because the realities of party politics,
democratic governance and decision making exist – even at municipal level –
beyond the immediate reach and the first-hand experience of most individuals
within media audiences. Politicians naturally crave influence over the elector-
ate and consider the media to be a conduit to that electorate, while the act of
mediatisation is to represent – or misrepresent – a set of knowable truths based
upon which individuals might change or persist with their voting intention in
elections (Kuhn, 2007). Even ‘news’ and ‘current affairs’ produced by relatively
known and trusted – or even regulated – providers is often wrongly considered
by those whose media literacy is underdeveloped to be an incontrovertible set
of facts, while it is clear what really ‘makes’ the news is normally determined by
a myriad of macro- and micro-processes operating outside the daily conscious-
ness of its audiences and documented and discussed at length elsewhere (for
example in Franklin, 2006).
This is a major issue for trust and the media, and one of increasing im-
portance for democracy. As Luhmann suggests with respect to a number of
different contexts, there could be serious consequences for democratic societies
in the widespread breaking down of trust. In relating the challenges inherent
in diminishing trust to societal change in ways which clearly resonate with the
changes to the mediatised environment we have discussed above, Luhmann
states:

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“… it may be more important to accept two interdependent structural


changes: firstly, the increasing diversification and particularization of
familiarities and unfamiliarities; and secondly, the increasing replace-
ment of danger by risk, that is by the possibility of future damages which
we will have to consider a consequence of our own action or omission”
(1988: 105).
Trust, trustfulness and trustworthiness among and between media produc-
ers and their audiences are inextricably bound together in a complex relation-
ship subject to often systematic, often random forces that are becoming increas-
ingly intricate in nature. As even limited safeguards in regulation and economic
gatekeeping have been reduced in their effectiveness as bulwarks against misin-
formation and systematic bias by the emergence through divergence of media
provision of many unconstrained providers of news and information, where are
individuals within audiences to turn for help in discerning between competing
realities being re-presented to them? In short, how are they to know whom to
trust? Without sufficient levels of media literacy to begin to make informed
judgments about the trustworthiness of different mediators by proxy, their edi-
torial processes, motives and capabilities, it is unlikely that many citizens will be
properly prepared to safeguard themselves against misleading representations;
representations upon which they may base judgements in exercising – or choos-
ing not to exercise – their right to democratic participation.

94 CM : Communication Management Quarterly : Časopis za upravljanje komuniciranjem 26 (2013) 73–98 © 2013 CDC and author(s)
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multi-platform media environment

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98 CM : Communication Management Quarterly : Časopis za upravljanje komuniciranjem 26 (2013) 73–98 © 2013 CDC and author(s)
Trust in the context of audience fragmentation

Ragne Kõuts1
Institute of Journalism and Communication, University of Tartu, Estonia

Peeter Vihalemm2
Institute of Journalism and Communication, University of Tartu, Estonia

Marju Lauristin3
Institute of Journalism and Communication, University of Tartu, Estonia

doi:10.5937/comman1326099K

Summary: The growing complexity of today’s societies in combination with in-


creasing audience fragmentation makes the question ‘what is holding society together?’
more important than ever. If ‘trust’ is the primary ‘cement’ used in the building of an
operational communicative network without personal contacts and face-to-face commu-
nication, do we see changes in trust patterns going hand in hand with increasing social
diversity and fragmented media?
In this article we will examine the connections between trust, media usage and so-
cial participation. In the first part we will analyse the general societal context and trust
in European societies, based on Eurobarometer surveys, highlighting cultural/national
specifics. We will then concentrate on those general social factors that illuminate the pat-
terns of social participation and media usage, and show interconnections between these
factors and trust levels. In order to make this study as comprehensive as possible, our
study of Estonia will be discussed in detail.

Keywords: institutional trust, media, audience fragmentation, Estonia, Euroba-


rometer

1
ragne.kouts@ut.ee
2
peeter.vihalemm@ut.ee
3
marju.lauristin@ut.ee

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Trust in the context of Ragne Kõuts,
audience fragmentation Peeter Vihalemm, Marju Lauristin

Trust and media: two research traditions


In the history of media research, one can distinguish two research traditions
that deal with trust and mass media. With regard to media effects, traditional
researchers have tried to connect mass media content and/or media use with
social and political trust. Cultivation analyses show an evolution towards rising
levels of negativism in the content, and researchers argue that mass media will
cultivate even more cynicism among audiences (as argued by Gerbner and his
team in 1969, or Wolling in 2001). Researchers from this school have conclud-
ed that the frequent exposure of political scandals, corruption, natural disasters
and crime-related news by the mass media will also create an environment of
more uncertainty and distress for the audiences.
The other approach to this research deals with trust in the institution of
mass media itself, or institutionalised trust (Sztompka, 1999; Quandt, 2012).
Some researchers have shown historical trends that proceed towards a greater
degree of mistrust on the part of the audiences (Cappella, 2002: 231). For ex-
ample, media scepticism in America has grown from 15% in 1973 to 41% in
1996 (Tsafti, 2001 cit. in Cappella, 2002), in keeping with the growing atmos-
phere of mistrust in American society (see Putnam, 2000).
It is clear that on a general level of institutional trust, real political and social
events and cultural contexts also influence trust in the mass media, however the
same concept can be identified in the opposite direction: “if trust in media is
dwindling, this also becomes a danger to society at large, as there is no other
reliable structure that could provide the necessary reduction of complexity for
society” (Quandt, 2012: 18).
Applying Piotr Sztompka’s model of multi-layered institutional trust (Sz-
tompka, 1999), we can differentiate between a general level of symbolic trust
in the ‘media as such’, which is dependent on the level of general trust in insti-
tutions in the given society, and the “procedural trust”, which is more closely
related to the real experiences of people’s dealings with particular institutions.
Quandt has argued that institutional trust “is a more generalised, ‘thin’ trust
or even ‘systemic’ trust (as in the belief of the general functioning of the whole
network, its rules and its actors)” (Quandt, 2012: 12). Thus, not only personal
experiences play a role in institutional trust, but the importance of perceived
trustworthiness is also decisive – people should believe that an institution is
trustworthy.
European surveys have shown that among the institutions, any type of mass
medium is trusted more by the population than parliaments or governments in

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nation states (Standard Eurobarometer, 2009, 2011). This is probably related


to the role that the media have played in the region’s history. “The media have
been seen in Europe for most of the twentieth century, as first social institutions
and only secondary, if at all, private business” (Hallin & Mancini, 2004: 49).
The general feature of media in Europe could be an assumption that media, and
especially the printed press, represent the public more than commercial or pri-
vate interests (see e.g. ‘Four theories of press’-tradition beginning with Siebert
et al. (1963) – well summarised by Jakubowitz, 2010). However, commerciali-
sation is a trend that is also noticeable in European media systems (McQuail,
2007), and even public broadcasting services have not remained untouched by
this process (Jõesaar, 2011).
Nevertheless, identifying a clear criterion in order to measure the trustwor-
thiness of an institution is a complicated task “because the appraisal of their
trustworthiness usually requires simultaneous consideration of various scales
of achievement, and the scales are most often incommensurable” (Sztompka,
1999: 83). This is one of the reasons why, in sociological research, the decisions
regarding the question ‘does one trust or not’ are left to respondents and the
question is asked directly in the surveys – researchers trust the answers of the re-
spondents. However, studying the reasons as to why one trusts an institution or
not is a more complicated task for researchers. Delhey and Newton (2002) used
the Eurobarometer studies in seven countries to test which origins of social trust
can be considered as the most important. Is a more trusting attitude related to
personality type, to a higher income and social status, or does it derive from
membership in voluntary associations or from having a larger social network?
Is it related to the physical location of a given individual’s home and the size of
the surrounding community, or to absence of social conflicts in society? These
scholars conclude that
“generalised social trust tends to be high among citizens who believe that
there are few severe social conflicts and where the sense of public safety is
high. Second, membership of informal social networks is significant in all
countries. And third, those who are successful in life can afford to trust
more” (Delhey & Newton, 2002: 22).
Quite similarly, as in the case of generalised trust, trust in different media
channels is also embedded in the relevant social context. According to Euroba-
rometer 2011, there are considerable differences in news media preferences, as
well as in the level of trust in particular channels, which depend on age, gender,
economic performance and professional background. In Europe
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“the respondent’s level of education also creates significant differences: for


example, trust in radio, the press and the internet increases in line with
respondent’s level of education /.../ The opposite is true as regards televi-
sion: the least educated respondents are more likely to trust it. Trust levels
are lower among respondents with financial difficulties” (Media Use in the
EU – Autumn, 2011: 13).

Trust in Europe
Generalised institutional trust is unevenly distributed across the globe
(Delhey & Newton 2005: 1). Comparing trust in politicians, parliament or the
president, with few exceptions one can distinguish the more trusting Northern
Europe from the less trusting South, and the more trusting ‘old’ EU countries
from the less trusting ‘newcomers’ (Standard Eurobarometer, 2006, 2011). Af-
ter the collapse of the Soviet Union, post-communist countries have shown de-
cidedly lower trust levels in comparison to those of stable democratic countries
(Sztompka, 1995; Mishler & Rose, 2001; Lovell, 2001; Delhey, & Newton,
2002), and twenty years after the collapse of the ‘red’ regime this is still the case.
For example, 58% of Finland’s inhabitants trusted parliament and 56% trusted
government in 2011, whereas in Romania the respective percentages were 9 and
10 (Standard Eurobarometer, 2011).
Trust in media and trust in state institutions are all correlated in Europe,
however the direction of these correlations differ, dividing the European coun-
tries into distinguishable groups (Figure 1). Both high trust in media and high
trust in state institutions are characteristic of Nordic countries such as Sweden,
Finland and Denmark. Somewhat lower political trust, but comparably high
trust in the media is found in the second group comprised of countries such as
Austria, The Netherlands and Germany, as well as new EU members such as
Estonia and Bulgaria. The third group is characterised by a moderate level of
trust in both fields compared to the EU average, taken in France, Portugal, UK,
Spain, Ireland and the post-communist countries including Latvia, Poland,
Lithuania and Hungary. The last group, where media trust and political trust
are both very low, is made up of Greece, Italy and Malta. In Italy trust has been
low for many decades, yet in Greece an abrupt decline was registered in recent
years, when the economic difficulties of the state became public knowledge.

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Figure 1: Trust in media and state institutions in European countries, 2011


(Source: Eurobarometer, 2011).4

90
Trust in national government (EU 27 average)
Trust in media (% who tend to trust)

SE
80
SK FI
BG BE AT EE
CZ
DK
70
IE NL
RO FR DE LU
60 LV
PT CY
LT PL Trust in radio (EU 27 average)
SI UK HU
50
ES

40 IT MT

EL
30
0 10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80
Trust in state institutions (% who tend to trust)

In the context of trust in the media, the post-communist states do not form
a unified group – while the local public trust in mass media has increased in
some post-communist countries such as Estonia, Poland or Hungary over the
last few years, it has also grown in Nordic countries such as Finland, Sweden
and Denmark. At the same time, this trust has decreased significantly in Por-
tugal and Greece. Data provided by the Eurobarometer show that European
countries have followed different patterns.
Trust displayed towards different media types or channels is also different.
Among all of the media types, in Europe, broadcasting services are more trusted
than newspapers or internet. This is probably related to the media policy in
Europe, where one of “the basic principles was, applying mainly to broadcast-
ing, that of maintaining a public service element in communication to ensure
certain essential benefits to the society as a whole and its constituent groups”
4
Since the role of specific media types varies according to different countries’ realities, the percentages of the most
trusted media type (TV or radio) are given in the graph above (figure 1), and are based on the same considerations,
as are the most trusted state institutions (government or parliament). Positions reported in this graph are compared
to the EU average in both dimensions (in 2011, from the mass media types, radio is more trusted than TV – respec-
tively 57% and 53% tend to trust; from the state institutions, national parliaments are more trusted than govern-
ments – respectively 27% and 23% of Europeans tend to trust).

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(McQuail, 2007: 22). There are however significant differences between coun-
tries, and this system is changing. An especially significant indicator related to
changes in European media systems could be the decreasing role of printed me-
dia in many countries. Compared to public trust in broadcasting, the printed
press is significantly less trusted for example in United Kingdom, Sweden, Den-
mark and Bulgaria. Trust ratings for the press are highest in Finland, Slovakia
and Luxembourg.
In the majority of countries traditional media are more trusted than the in-
ternet. The situation is interesting in Greece and Italy, where the internet enjoys
almost the same or even a higher level of trust in comparison to broadcasting or
print media. In Czech Republic, Denmark and Slovakia, more people trust the
internet than the press. The internet as a ‘newcomer’ is only slowly establishing
itself and growing in terms of its trustworthiness, though its usage has increased
more quickly than trust in the actual resource.
It is not easy to generalise patterns in media trust. On the one hand, it is
related to the cultural specificities and historically rooted role of different media
types in the respective cultures, but on the other hand, it is also probably influ-
enced by paradoxical situations in institutionalised mass media:
“media houses – and journalistic media in particular – rely on trust in
their content which is produced according to professional rules and tries
to be ‘truthful’ to the actual events (factuality); however, the institutional-
ised, rule-based ‘production’ – which is supposed to guarantee factuality
– actually feeds doubts about the ‘authenticity’ of the content” (Quandt,
2012: 17).
Although Eurobarometer findings should be interpreted with care, they
are valuable sources in establishing the generality of our findings derived from
single contexts. “The need for international comparison is more evident in the
areas where we find a strong relationship between communication phenomena,
on the one hand, and political systems and cultural value systems, on the other”
(Esser & Hanitzsch, 2012: 4).
One would expect that, when talking about trust in the media, we should
take into account two viewpoints on institutional trust: firstly, the image or
reputation of channels in a given society, and secondly, the real usage, or pro-
cedural trust according to Sztompka (1999). Here we will test these concepts
using one national example, i.e. that of Estonia.

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Audience fragmentation
As an instrument to be used in the analysis of the foundations of media
trust, the Eurobarometer survey is too general, as among particular media type
we face highly complex realities: commercial vs. public service principles; more
informative and more entertaining content; consumer-oriented vs. citizen-
oriented content, etc. Nowadays, as a result of the greater availability of com-
munication technologies, audiences can choose freely between many different
channels in order to compile their personal ‘media menus’. Given that a larger
selection is delivered by broadband networks and more choices are available
‘on-demand’, patterns of consumption have become more widely distributed
(Webster & Ksiazek, 2012: 39). Although audience fragmentation is often dealt
with in the context of digital media (Chaffee & Metzger, 2001; Tewksbury,
2005), we see that fragmentation in traditional media is just as important in
the current situation (Vihalemm, 2008). “With further growth and complexity,
the problems of a ‘traditional’ media system become exacerbated: if the social
structure becomes more fragmented into segregated subgroups, without a larger
unified core (mainstream), it becomes harder for media to address all the inter-
ests and communication needs” (Quandt, 2012: 13).
For some researchers, “fragmentation spells the end of a common cultural
forum, or worse, the birth of media enclaves and ‘sphericules’ that scarcely in-
teract” (Webster & Ksiazek, 2012: 39). Fragmentation is thus conceptualised
as a counter-process for integration. Modern sociological theories have noticed
the development of highly differentiated and disintegrated societies (Heitmeyer,
1997; Luhmann, 2002); at least this is the case in Europe. However, if we prefer
to adopt a more complex audience-centric approach to fragmentation, as Web-
ster and Ksiazek do, “we find very little evidence that audiences are composed
of devoted royalists; rather, they show high levels of overlap across outlets”
(Webster & Ksiazek, 2012: 40). Based on one national example, Vihalemm
concludes that “the uses of traditional and new media are in general comple-
mentary to each other” (Vihalemm, 2008: 119). Among media audiences, we
do not find a clear polarisation between young people who are predominantly
internet users, and users of traditional media channels. Thus we define frag-
mentation as a situation in which there is no single core or clearly dominating
medium in an audience with many subgroups of users, even though their media
‘menus’ may overlap.
In the context of audience fragmentation, different groups of users are dif-
ferently involved in society, since their dispositions or participative attitudes
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may differ. We can conceptualise media use as participation, because by con-


suming mass mediated content, audiences are involved in the communicative
network covering all of society. Participation is not only qualified as voting
during elections, volunteer work or participation in civic organisations: “some-
times participation is seen as mere presence, and people are seen as participat-
ing when they are simply being exposed to specific cultural products (such
as watching television, visiting a museum or reading a blog)” (Carpentier &
Dahlgren, 2011: 8). Even minimal involvement needs a respective disposition
on the part of the individual. Dahlgren has shown how various forms of media
may function in a positive or negative manner in regard to citizens’ political
involvement in democracy (Dahlgren, 2011: 89). It is more useful to avoid
using dichotomist terms in relation to participation and non-participation,
while Dahlgren proposes rather a discussion on the intensity of participation
(Dahlgren, 2011: 92). Media use alone is only one level and the least intensive
mode of participation, but we can also detect gradations in these patterns, as
some media need, according to McLuhan, a higher degree involvement for their
use (such as reading newspapers) while others require less intensive involvement
(such as television) (Gordon, 2003).
Some research has shown links between particular media usage and trusts
levels. A study conducted in the US concluded that “reading newspapers and
watching entertainment television had positive influences on social trust” (Moy
& Scheufle, 2000: 751), and that the “use of print media can lead to greater
political trust because it increases political expertise” (Moy & Pfau, 2000). A
representative longitudinal study in Germany by Schulz (1999) concluded that
“mistrust is bigger in the groups who watch more intensively information and
entertainment broadcasts and prefer the private channels at the same time”
(Schulz, 1999: 100). On the other hand, the diverse use of TV channels creates
a feeling of political competency among audiences (Schulz, 1999: 99). These
results are important in terms of audience fragmentation, showing how we can
test whether media diversity could also be related to differences in trust atti-
tudes. Trust towards media or institutions as individual dispositions can be seen
as one of the fragmenting factors. One could assume that groups with clearly
different media usage will show different levels of trust and different participa-
tive attitudes.

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Research Method
We used comprehensive survey data collected in Estonia in order to explain
the relationships between trust and media use in detail.5 Among other variables,
the survey contains questions that served the purpose of attempting to ‘quan-
tify’ the relationship between trust and audience fragmentation.
Here, we will discuss the two approaches used to test the importance of
both components in trust levels, i.e. the component of actual use (procedural
trust) and the component of trust ‘as such’ (image or reputation of media), veri-
fying the following research questions:

RQ1: How are media use patterns related to participation and institutional
trust?
RQ2: How is trust in the media related to participation?
RQ3: How is trust in the media related to the perceived role of a particular
channel?

Our analysis follows a three-step model: firstly, we checked the main deter-
mining variables in the trust in media with the help of regression analysis, going
on to distinguish between different media use clusters among respondents and
describe the socio-demographic composition of clusters. Finally, we related me-
dia use patterns with participation and trust variables. Since we assumed that
participation, trust and media use have complex interconnections in individual
everyday practices – media use becomes one of the participation components,
while trust is related to an individual’s specific disposition to participate or not
– we consciously amalgamated the parameters of media use and participation in
the cluster analysis so as to detect the specific combinations of the two aspects.
If we clearly detected different media use patterns among respondents, we were
then able to describe the situation as audience fragmentation.
For the analysis, we constructed aggregate indexes that measured the inten-
sity and diversity of different types of media usage. Indexes help to give us in-
sight into the activeness and diversity of media use for different groups without
5
A representative survey Me, World and the Media was carried out by the University of Tartu in cooperation with
Saar-Poll in November 2011. The survey includes interviews with 1510 respondents aged 15-74; interviews were
distributed both in Estonian and in Russian language according to the respondents’ preference. The standardised
questionnaire contained about 600 questions on media use, lifestyles, political orientations and participation, social
values, attitudes, consumption habits, etc. The respondents filled in the greater part of the questionnaire on their
own. The research was supported by grants from the Estonian Ministry of Education and Science (No 0180017s07)
and the Estonian Science Foundation (No 8329 and 9121).

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getting lost in the specifics of each and every media landscape. In our database,
we take into account preferences of media use in different language groups,
namely those of both Estonians and Russians living in Estonia, who, as users,
have significantly different media ‘menus’ (Vihalemm, 2008).

Media usage clusters in Estonia


When compared to other European countries, the level of institutional trust
in parliament, government and all media types in Estonia is significantly higher
than the EU average; it is not only almost the highest among EEC countries,
but it is also comparable with ‘old’ EU countries, although it does not reach the
level of Scandinavian nations (Eurobarometer, 2011). In this regard, the survey
that we used in the analysis of media usage patterns showed similar results to
those cited by Eurobarometer.
In selecting variables and indexes for cluster analysis, we first explored the
covariance of many different variables through regression analysis. Media trust
was the largest part explained by a constant (B=1,112), and it was significantly
correlated with trust in state institutions (Beta 0,509), while it was shown to
have only a slight but significant correlation to the activeness and diversity of
TV use (Beta 0,021). For this reason, and given that our earlier research sup-
ports this model (Lauristin et al., 1987; Kõuts, 2004), we added not only media
usage indexes, but also indexes related to trust in state institutions, as well as
participation in civic society6 to our cluster analysis.
Since we had more than one thousand cases, we used the K-Means cluster
analysis method for classifying different types of media use and trust relation-
ships. The results of the cluster analysis allowed us to characterise five distinct
patterns (or types) of media usage and relate these media usage types to the
social context of audiences, their interests, values, civic participation and trust
in the media (Table 1).

6
If we had constructed clusters using only media use indexes, the quality of the model would have been lower than
in the case where we included participation indicators as well (we tested the reliability of different models with the
help of linear discriminant analysis, as suggested by Everett et al 2001, and took a decision based on this guideline
for the model, in which we stipulated three dimensions: media use, trust and the participation dimension).

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Table 1: Clusters of media use and participation


(types are listed in order of media use activeness, n=1510).*

Indexes and variables Type 1 Type 2 Type 3 Type 4 Type 5


Media use indexes, activeness and diversity in:
newspaper reading ++ + ++ –– ––
radio listening ++ ++ –– –– +
TV viewing ++ + – Ø ––
internet use ++ ––– ++ Ø –
news portal reading ++ –– ++ – ––
Civic and political participation indexes
General interest in politics and politi-
++ ++ Ø – ––
cal participation
Participation in civic actions ++ ++ – Ø ––
Share of cluster among respondents
22.8 17.3 13.0 17.5 29.3
(%)
*The marks in the columns indicate the value that a group has in this dimension in comparison to
other groups: – – much lower value; – slightly lower value; Ø average value; + slightly higher value; ++
much higher value.7

We can briefly describe media usage clusters as follows:

1) We describe Type 1 as ‘multi-active’ (23% of all respondents). Members


of this cluster are heavy users of all media channels, both of traditional media
as well as internet possibilities. This cluster is also characterised by very active
political and civic participation. If we look at trust indicators, we see that this
group is the most trustful in both the media and in state institutions, but at the
same time is extremely critical towards Estonian media performance. From a
socio-demographic point of view, this group consists mostly of highly educated
people with high incomes, aged between 30 and 54. In terms of gender, this
cluster is proportional to the whole population, but the ethnic composition is

7
In the annexe, the means for clusters are given in comparison to the means for all respondents on the 5-point scale
(all differences are significant in the level Sig. = 0.00). The table in the annexe is more detailed and consists of ad-
ditional variables characterising types of media user, while the socio-demographic composition of groups is also
shown.

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audience fragmentation Peeter Vihalemm, Marju Lauristin

disproportionally dominated by the Estonian majority (see socio-demographic


composition of the clusters in the annexe).

2) Type 2 (17%) is labelled as the ‘active traditional user’. This type rep-
resents the traditional image of a good citizen. Their activeness and diversity
in reading newspapers, watching TV and listening to the radio is higher than
average, but internet-related activities are significantly lower than average. On
the other hand, they are extremely interested in politics and participate actively
in political life and civic society. Their active participation characterises them
as having a great deal of trust in state institutions, and their trust in the media
is a little higher than average. Socio-demographically speaking, this cluster
represents an active part of the older generation: 28% of this type are retired
individuals, with 76% belonging to the over-45 age bracket. With regards to
income, education and gender, this type is closest to the population average,
while in terms of ethnic composition, when compared to their proportion in
the whole sample, there are a few more Estonian-speaking respondents than
Russian-speaking participants.

3) Type 3 (13%) is labelled as the ‘reading-oriented moderate new media


user’. This is the smallest group, and while this type is generally more interested
in newspapers than in audiovisual media, it also actively uses news portals and
reads online newspapers. Broadcasting services are used much less than average
by this group. Being moderately interested in political information, this group
is simultaneously characterised by a comparatively low civic participation. Its
trust in media and state institutions is average. Socio-demographically, this
group is dominated by young, highly educated and economically well-off fe-
males, who are mainly Estonian-speakers.

4) We labelled Type 4 (18%) as ‘moderate TV and internet users’. This


type uses both traditional media and news portals less than the average, and
only shows some interest in TV and internet. This type is quite passive in rela-
tion to political and civic participation. Trust in the media and state institutions
is almost average, while criticism towards the Estonian media is the lowest. This
is the youngest type (the 15-19 and 20-29 age groups are overrepresented), but
the number of Estonian-speakers and Russian-speakers is close to the average
of the sample.

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5) Type 5 is the group made up of ‘passive public radio listeners’ whose ra-
dio listening is higher than the sample’s average. Politically speaking, this is the
most disinterested and less participatory group. Here, trust in the media and in
state institutions is also the lowest. Socio-demographically, this group consists
mostly of Russian speakers, with a lower level of education and a slightly higher
number of males than females, but interestingly, it is very evenly distributed in
terms of age structure – in this group we find all age groups in almost the same
number as in the sample.

Patterns of audience fragmentation show that it is possible to distinguish


between groups of active users of traditional and ‘new’ media from those groups
in which only ‘new’ media orientation dominates, and those groups in which
only traditional media orientation features, and even between groups in which
media use is rather low (see Figure 2). However, there are no clear social divi-
sions between more or less active, traditional or new media users, but within the
social groups we can see different patterns of media usage.
The same could be said about the relationships between media usage and
political participation: even if there are some groups in which active participa-
tion goes hand in hand with high media usage (Types 1 and 2), it is also possible
to see how comparatively active media users are at the same time less engaged in
civic activities and do not participate in political life (Type 3). We cannot state
that heavy usage of new media inhibits active participation in real life civic ac-
tivities, as Type 1 shows the opposite, however, the low level of media usage and
low level of participation are more often interrelated than not (Types 4 and 5).

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Figure 2: Media use patterns in different clusters (compared to the averages of all
respondents, n=1510) (differences are significant on the level 0.00).
newspapers radio TV internet news-portals
1,5

1,0

0,5

0,0

-0,5

-1,0
Type 1 Type 2 Type 3 Type 4 Type 5

If we compare media trust, trust in state institutions and general trust (trust
in other people) in the five types, we can see that they are clearly polarised: the
most passive group is the least trusting and the most active group is the most
trusting (see Figure 3). The differences between groups who take a middle
stance are quite small.
Figure 3: Trust in media, state institutions and general trust (trust in other people) in
different media clusters (compared to averages of all respondents, n=1510)
(differences are significant on the level 0.00).
trust in media trust in state institutions general trust

0,3

0,2

0,1

0,0

-0,1

-0,2

-0,3

-0,4
Type 1 Type 2 Type 3 Type 4 Type 5

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We can also show several socio-demographical country-specific results:


the most passive and distrusting group consists mostly of Estonian Russian-
speakers; gender has no effect on the levels of media usage, participation and
trust. The age groups are divided by the preferential usage of traditional or new
media, but not by the level of participation: both the oldest and the youngest
respondents are divided between the active and passive groups.

Trust and the ‘reputation’ of media channels


Our next question was how trust in media is related to the perception of
the public role of the channel. Based on theoretical and empirical literature, we
assumed that channels which appeal to general public interest are more trusted
than others.
If we analyse trust scores given to particular channels in the Estonian media
system, we see that there are several channels that are more trusted than others.
At the top of the list are the public TV and radio services, which boast signifi-
cantly higher trust scores than newspapers, commercial TV and radio channels;
while the least trusted media channels are internet news portals (means respec-
tively: 3.45, 3.41, 3.07, 3.06, 3.01, 2.90 on the five-point scale). Public TV
is trusted even if not as widely used, and thus we can conclude that here the
channel’s ‘reputation’ plays a significant role in the trust level granted to this
channel. Nevertheless, this conclusion mainly concerns Estonian-speakers who
trust public broadcasting much more than private channels. Among Russian-
speakers, differences in trust levels related to different Estonian channels are
much lower (Figure 4).

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Figure 4: Trust in the media among Estonian-speakers and Russian-speakers (% of


respondents who tend to trust) (differences are significant on the level 0.00).
Estonian-speakers Russian-speakers
(n=1018) (n=492)
80

70

60

50

40

30

20

10
0
Estonian TV Private TV Estonian radio Private Newspapers Internet
(public) (public) radio portals

Awareness of the public or commercial orientation of a particular media


channel has some impact on the assessment of trustfulness of this channel, even
in the Russian audience, but it is statistically not very relevant. Low trust level
in Estonian public media among Russian-speakers is strongly influenced by a
relatively low level of trust in Estonian state institutions. In general, the portion
of respondents with a high level of trust in the Estonian nation state is 54%
among Estonians and 27% in the Russian-speaking population; while a high
level of trust in the government is 31% and 15% respectively, and in parlia-
ment, 21% and 14%.
In order to analyse the hypothesis related to the importance of the ‘reputa-
tion’ component in trust levels among the Russian-speaking part of the audi-
ence, we chose the TV channel Pervõi Baltiiski Kanal (PBK), which broadcasts
in three Baltic countries and transmits regular daily news in the programme for
each country – News for Estonia, News for Latvia and News for Lithuania –
as an interesting and special case. The channel has the highest audience share
among Russian-speakers in Estonia. PBK is a private enterprise controlled by
the state-owned First Channel of Russia – a fact that is not known to most of
its Estonian audience. We can use this example to indicate a pattern in which
people who think that PBK is a public broadcasting service in Baltic countries
trust this channel more than others.

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We verified the correlation between two variables: trust levels in PBK and
opinions on ownership of PBK. In the questionnaire, we had five given variants
regarding the ownership of PBK, namely: 1 – it is a public service channel of
the Baltic States; 2 – it is a private Russian company; 3 – it is a private company
registered in the Baltic States, but the owner is from Russia; 4 – it is Russian
state channel; 5 – do not know.
First of all, a slight correlation (Pearson’s R = 0.152) between these two
variables exists and is significant. Those who think that PBK is a public service
channel of the Baltic states trust the channel more than those who do not know
who the ‘owner’ of PBK is (see Figure 5).

Figure 5: Trust in TV channel PBK (First Baltic Channel, owned by Russian state)
depending on the opinion given in relation to the channel’s ownership
(% of respondents, n=802).
tend to trust tend not to trust

80

70

60

50

40

30

20

10
0
PSB of Russian Private company Russian don’t know
Baltic states private company of Baltics state’s channel

As we see in Figure 5, there is no difference in trust levels in the groups of


respondents who think that the channel is privately owned, no matter where
the owner comes from, i.e. from Russia or the Baltic States. If we check other
possible factors which could influence trust in PBK, the actual use of PBK (B
= 0.372, the importance of PBK news for respondents) has the strongest value.
This result indicates that among Russian-speakers, the actual experience of
viewing (a procedural component of trust) has more importance than a chan-
nel’s reputation.

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At the same time, trust in the media in this minority language group is af-
fected by identity orientation (see Figure 6).

Figure 6: Trust in media channels depending on the identification with Estonia or Russia
as their homeland (% of respondents, n=802).
Trust of Russian minority in Russian language media
related to identity orientation

Identified homeland Identified homeland


with Estonia with Russia
80

70

60

50

40

30

20

10
0
Other Russian
PBK Estonian public Estonian newspapers Estonian public
federation
(Baltic-Russian TV) TV in Russian in Russian radio in Russian
TV channels

Members of the Russian minority who are better integrated into Estonian
society and identify Estonia as their only homeland, show less trust in TV
channels originating in the Russian Federation when compared to those who
identify Russia as their only homeland, even if the regularity with which they
watch these channels is equal. The only exception here is again PBK, whose
connection with Russia is unclear to the audience, even if the share of local
content is relatively high.

Conclusions and discussion


In many countries in Europe, trust in the media is positively correlated with
trust in state institutions. In Northern Europe, Austria, Germany and Belgium,
trust levels in the media and trust in state institutions are both high. As former
communist countries, Estonia and Bulgaria also belong to this pattern. Low
trust levels, both in state institutions and in the media, are characteristic of

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Greece, Italy and Malta. Other countries represent ambivalent patterns, where
one trust score is lower and the other is higher or both correspond to the EU
average. Very low trust in the media is evident in Spain, Hungary and the UK.
The internet is the least trusted media channel in Europe, but in several coun-
tries the internet has a higher trust level when compared to ‘traditional’ chan-
nels (e.g. Greece and Italy). This result is important and we should probably
re-think the role of the media and of particular media types in Europe in future.
Our interest lay in the foundations of trust in the media within the context
of audience fragmentation, where there is no single, unifying core of media
usage for audiences and different groups have clearly distinguishable media
‘menus’. Patterns of audience fragmentation show that there are no clear socio-
demographic divisions between more or less active, traditional or new media
users, but it is possible to distinguish between groups of active users of tradi-
tional and ‘new’ media, groups with an exclusively ‘new’ media orientation,
groups with an exclusively traditional media orientation, and even groups
where media use is rather low.
Using the model offered by Piotr Szrompka (1999), we focused on the
importance of two components in institutional trust: the procedural compo-
nent (media use) and the ‘reputation’ component (the perceived public role of
channels). Does the trust in media grow from actual use or rather, does it derive
from the more abstract, perceived role of the media in the national context? We
used data from a comprehensive survey carried out in Estonia in 2011 to test
this enquiry.
Only one conclusion can be drawn – active and diverse media use is related
to higher participation in social life and to higher institutional trust, and vice
versa – less active and rather one-dimensional media use is related to low levels
of participation and institutional trust. This said, it is not possible to talk about
causal relationships in this context. We do not know if more diverse media use
results in a more trusting attitude, or whether diverse media use is related to a
more trusting attitude. We should agree with Delhey and Newton, who, after
extensive research, can only say: “we can say rather little about causes and ef-
fects” (2004: 23).
We cannot draw a single, unanimous conclusion related to the importance
of the use or reputation components in media trust. Based on our data, we can
see that ‘cultural’ factors intervene in analysed trust patterns. The perceived pub-
lic roles of channels have a stronger impact on trust in only one analysed group
with a different cultural background – in our case, that of the Estonian-speakers

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in Estonia. The Russian-speaking part of the audience does not consider the
distinction between public service and commercial outlets as being significant,
while trust levels in different media channels within this group mainly rely on
the component of actual use – procedural trust. Thus, we can only conclude
that in every single culture, the composition of trust follows cultural patterns.
In some cultural groups, trust rests mainly on usage practices – the audience’s
trust rises with the usage of the channel; in other cultural groups, the trust-
worthy image of the media plays a more important role – they trust when they
believe that the channel acts in public interest or for the common good, as the
public media service is perceived to do in many European countries.
Our study confirms some well-known patterns and correlations between
trust in the media and trust in political institutions, but also adds some new
complexities to such patterns. We showed that national and cultural contexts
in one country play a decisive role, although they are sometimes glossed over
in the grand comparisons of trust levels across many national frontiers, where
the conditions – and therefore also findings – are sometimes incommensurable.

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Annexe
Media usage cluster profiles (differences in the means compared to the
means of all respondents on the five-point scale; means which are higher than
the mean for all respondents are presented in bold type)

Type 1 Type 2 Type 3 Type 4 Type 5 Total


Reading- Moderate Passive
Active
Multi- oriented TV and public
Cluster’s label traditional
active moderate internet radio
user
user user listener
Share of cluster among
respondents 22.8 17.3 13.0 17.5 29.3 100
(%, n=1510)
Media use indexes, activeness and diversity in:
newspaper reading 3.96 3.43 3.80 2.24 2.14 3.02
radio listening 3.92 3.80 2.21 2.02 3.30 3.01
TV viewing 3.86 3.38 2.47 3.00 2.11 3.04
internet use 3.97 2.00 3.54 3.02 2.25 2.99
news portal reading 4.23 1.98 3.83 2.37 1.95 2.84
Civic and political participation indexes
General interest in politics
3.77 3.48 3.04 2.77 2.09 3.04
and political participation
Participation in civic
3.44 3.24 2.39 2.60 1.56 2.69
actions
Trust variables
Trust in media 3.34 3.18 3.09 3.13 2.78 3.12
Trust in state institutions 3.08 3.04 2.98 3.04 2.64 2.97
General social trust 3.21 3.07 3.03 3.01 2.59 2.99
Additional variables
characterising the types
Critical attitude towards
3.15 2.93 3.08 2.80 2.67 2.92
Estonian media
Optimistic attitude 2.70 2.20 2.62 2.45 1.83 2.38
Positive evaluation of
3.56 3.28 3.39 3.26 2.90 3.29
social changes
Broad use of foreign
3.60 2.83 3.10 3.02 2.52 3.04
languages
Personal experiences in the
3.07 2.34 2.90 2.54 2.00 2.58
western world

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Socio-demographic composition of clusters

Type 1 Type 2 Type 3 Type 4 Type 5 Total


Reading- Moderate Passive
Active
Multi- oriented TV and public
Cluster’s label traditional
active moderate internet radio
user
user user listener
Share of cluster
among respondents 22.8 17.3 13.0 17.5 29.3 100
(%, n=1510)
Language for
answering
80.6 74.7 80.2 69.3 36.0 68.4
Estonian
19.4 25.3 19.8 30.7 64.0 31.6
Russian
Gender
Male 48.7 50.2 40.1 41.5 53.8 46.6
Female 51.3 49.8 59.9 58.5 46.2 53.4
Age
15-19 4.3 2.3 6.6 13.5 8.7 7.7
20-29 17.7 4.2 27.9 24.6 17.4 18.7
30-44 34.8 17.6 32.0 24.4 21.6 26.1
45-54 22.0 24.1 16.8 13.5 20.1 18.9
55-64 16.2 23.8 12.7 16.5 13.3 16.6
65-74 4.9 28.0 4.1 7.4 18.9 12.0
Income per individual
per month
Below 160 euro 14.8 17.6 18.3 22.8 19.3 18.9
161-250 15.4 18.4 14.2 16.5 26.5 18.0
251-400 24.3 38.7 27.4 28.9 33.3 30.1
401-600 27.5 16.5 21.3 19.0 12.9 19.7
Over 600 euro 16.2 8.0 16.8 11.5 6.4 11.8
Education
Primary 11.3 18.0 12.7 23.5 30.3 19.5
Secondary 52.2 61.7 51.3 53.3 54.9 54.5
Tertiary 36.5 20.3 36.0 23.3 14.8 26.0

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124 CM : Communication Management Quarterly : Časopis za upravljanje komuniciranjem 26 (2013) 99–124 © 2013 CDC and author(s)
Comparing the incomparable:
Trust in media and state institutions

Gintaras Aleknonis1
Mykolas Romeris University, Vilnius, Lithuania

doi:10.5937/comman1326125A

Summary: Expressions of public trust in media and state institutions are contradic-
tive; their comparison should be evaluated with certain reservations. In order to compare
trust in media and state institutions throughout Europe, a very simple Comparative
Media Trust Index (CMTI) was designed. The CMTI is based on comparison of trust
in five state institutions and three media types, and was used for a pilot analysis to
compare trust in media and state institutions throughout Europe. For this analysis, the
level of ‘gross trust’ (which was calculated by summing up trust in media and the three
most trusted state institutions) was taken into account. The research helped identify four
models of trust (Transitional, Nordic, Post-communist and Mediterranean) which were
compared with three media systems proposed by Daniel Hallin and Paolo Mancini. The
first insights gained through the CMTI regarding the balance between trust in media
and state institutions throughout Europe could lead to rather optimistic conclusions. In
experienced democracies, primary trust is placed in democratically elected state institu-
tions, and trust in media could be characterised as secondary. Countries with fresh remi-
niscences of a totalitarian past still live in a transitional period where the understanding
of the roles of the state and the media is influenced by negative memories of distrust in
elected bodies.

Keywords: trust, media, media system, state institution

Introduction
Trust, “the foundation of the social relationship that we call citizenship”
(Coleman, 2012: 36), in one or another form is important to nearly all social
scientists. This broad field of research is one of the significant meeting points
1
gintaras@gmail.com

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Comparing the incomparable: Gintaras Aleknonis
Trust in media and state institutions

for political theory, philosophy, ethics, sociology, communication and media


studies. “The silent presence [of trust] can be detected in all main sociological
writings” (Misztal, 1996: 1). This happens throughout the history of human
thought; high interest in this topic is expressed in a range of significant texts,
starting with classical works by Aristotle to promises of ‘the end of history’ by
Francis Fukuyama, and even further.
Despite such great interest on behalf of scholars, we should acknowledge
the absence of a complete and widely accepted description of trust, not to
mention attempts to present qualitative or quantitative explanations of this
phenomenon. Diverse efforts to describe such specific varieties of trust, such
as trust in media or trust in state institutions, are only a few of a number of
examples confirming the complexity of the problem. “Scholars seem to agree
that we still lack a theoretically derived, reliable and validated instrument for
the measurement of trust in news media” (Kohring & Matthes, 2007: 232). A
superficial glance at the research field indirectly confirms that trust could be
characterised as a relatively subjective category, and from many points of view
is an immeasurable phenomenon.
The principal objectives of this article are:
1. to explain the possible contradiction between trust in media and state
institutions, which lays the theoretical foundation for our comparison;2
2. to propose an instrument for the comparison of trust in media and state
institutions;
3. with the help of this instrument, to compare trust in media and state
institutions throughout Europe;
4. on the basis of this comparison, to propose different models of trust and
look for their links with well-known media systems described by Daniel
Hallin and Paolo Mancini (2004).

Incomparable factors
Trust exists in diverse forms and on different levels. It is complicated to
evaluate or compare a child’s sincere trust in their parents with the critical (dis)
trust of an armchair economist in the articles of a daily newspaper predicting
bright economic prospects in the middle of a crisis.
2
The more deep and comprehensive theoretical context of the problem of trust is provided in the editorial introduc-
tion as well as in other articles of this volume.

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Gintaras Aleknonis Comparing the incomparable:
Trust in media and state institutions

In this volume, all of the authors are dealing with a particular and very
specific sort of trust, i.e. communication trust. Without fear of overestimat-
ing the importance of communication in human life, we must remember that
communication cannot exist without a certain degree of trust. These are in-
separable categories. Even if somebody is under the influence of disinformation
and understands the oddness of such a situation, they must trust that received
messages are provided by an unreliable source. As Niklas Luhmann precisely
notes, “[d]istrust, however, is not just the opposite of trust; as such, it is also
a functional equivalent for trust” (Luhmann, 1979: 71). This observation is
particularly relevant in the context of communication and highlights the con-
ditional nature of trust. The fact is often overlooked in the routine analysis of
surveys on trust or distrust.
Trust and truth, distrust and lies nearly always have moral, evaluative as-
pects. The functional understanding of trust should help us to take a more or
less neutral look at the problem. We presume that communicative relationships
between citizens and state or citizens and media should be based on trust, which
in turn serves as a fundament of social relationship. Together with Fukuyama,
we were able to trace three broad paths to sociability:
“[T]he first is based on family and kinship, the second on voluntary organi-
sation outside of kinship such as schools, clubs and professional organisa-
tions, and the third is the state. […] The first and third paths, it turns out,
are closely related to one another: cultures in which the primary avenue
toward sociability is family and kinship have a great deal of trouble creat-
ing large, durable economic organisations, and therefore look to the state
to initiate and support them” (Fukuyama, 1996: 62–63).
As Adam Seligman observes, “Fukuyama presents what are really two, not
three, models, one based on the familiarity of kinship and one which encom-
passes that element of trust which is an aspect of voluntary associations” (Selig-
man, 1997: 91).
It is difficult to resist the temptation to extend these ideas and base our
further research on the duality of trust in state and media. The model of
trust in family and state could be characterised as more or less stable; in most
communities this model is inherited, passed from one generation to another
and supported by formal procedures or rituals. Such conditional stability of
institutional trust could be linked with certain civic expectations and visions
of social protection. On the other hand, we would like to present trust in vol-
untary associations as some sort of changeable phenomenon, which could be
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Trust in media and state institutions

associated with the choice to trust one or another channel of information. To


some degree, it could be defined as market-based trust. The direct transfer of
such a dual model of trust into media and communication studies could entail
definite risks. First of all, certain doubts persist about the influence of voluntary
associations on the overall level of trust. As Kenneth Newton notes: “voluntary
associations do not seem to matter” (Newton, 2007: 356). The second point
could be summarised as a question: does trust in media really coincide with the
‘second path of trust’ and is it comparable with trust in voluntary associations?
From our point of view, the first doubt remains an open question, as neither
side has persuasive evidence to support their contradictive attitudes. As regards
the second point, we would like to stress the voluntary use and selection of
media channels. We should pay special attention to new communication tech-
nologies (which personalise the media and open new and less formal channels)
and at the same time to the rise of unofficial networks for the dissemination
of information (which substitute old media), as it helps to validate parallels
between media and voluntary associations.
Our presumption is that the more society and its members understand the
difference between trust in media and state institutions, the more they are in-
clined to trust democratically elected bodies. It is natural for societies to foster
an illusion about the essential differences between the egoistic purposes of the
media and state institutions, and on these grounds, to try to oppose them. Me-
dia empires make enormous efforts to mask their business interests and present
themselves as consistent defenders of an ordinary folk, or in the worst case, as
innocent entertainers. Most state institutions face a difficult choice between
elitist secrecy and populist propaganda.
Expressions of public trust in media and state institutions are contradictive;
their comparison should be evaluated with certain reservations, but neverthe-
less is worth exploring. We can foster expectations that the comparison of trust
in media and state institutions can expose certain peculiarities of different socie-
ties, and reveal strengths and weaknesses of their democratic foundations and
models of media functioning.

Comparative media trust index


In order to compare trust in media and state institutions throughout Eu-
rope, we designed a very simple Comparative Media Trust Index (CMTI) based
on real (or imaginable) contradiction between trust in state institutions and in
media.

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Trust in media and state institutions

In the very beginning, we had to overcome basic obstacles and answer the
question: what institutions represent the modern state in the mind of contem-
porary Europeans? Our choice of indicators was partly limited by the accessible
data used for the measurement of trust by different waves of the Standard Euro-
barometer. In our case, the available options were limited to indicators of trust
in (1) justice/national legal system; (2) the police; (3) the army; (4) religious
institutions; (5) trade unions; (6) big companies; (7) political parties, (8) the
national government; (9) the national parliament; and (10) small companies.
With some reservations, five indicators3 were chosen for comparison with trust
in different types of media. Such a choice is based primarily on data availability,
but, on the other hand, the composition of these five indicators in particular
is rather balanced. Two of the indicators (the national government and the na-
tional parliament) may depend on sudden changes in the mood of the popula-
tion, short-term success or sudden downfalls of administration. The other two
indicators (justice/national legal system and the police) represent more stable
attitudes which theoretically are independent from political and administra-
tive spheres and should be less associated with unexpected changes in mood.
The fifth indicator (the army) may look a bit outdated, but for recently reborn
states, trust in the army may have a rather symbolic value.
As regards the media, we relied on data about three ‘classical types’ of trust:
the press, radio and television. Data about trust in the internet was not incorpo-
rated into CMTI calculations because of the assumption that the understand-
ing of ‘trust in the internet’ for the time being could be too wide-ranging and
controversial as it could include not only trust in media web pages, but also
trust in social media or commercial websites. The other reason for the exclusion
of ‘trust in the internet’ was the existence of official web pages provided by state
institutions. The boundaries between different types of media on the internet
are not fixed in the mind of survey participants, and the inclusion of ‘trust in
the internet’ into the CMTI for the time being would only add unnecessary
confusion.
Taking into account the abovementioned problems, the CMTI was based
on the comparison of trust in five state institutions and three media types. The
first step was to calculate the difference between those who ‘tend to trust’ and
‘tend not to trust’, and who receive a (positive or negative) ‘score of trust’ in
five state institutions and three media types in all surveyed European coun-
3
(1) justice/national legal system; (2) the police; (3) the army; (8) the national government; and (9) the national
parliament. Unfortunately, data about trust in regional/local public authorities are not available in all editions of the
Standard Eurobarometer.

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Trust in media and state institutions

tries. Then, three of the most trusted state institutions in every country4 were
compared with three media types and arranged in a line according to popular
trust. For example, the ‘formula’ SSMMSM means that, according to overall
European data in 2010, two state institutions were trusted most, followed by
two media types, a state institution and the third media type (the army was
the most trusted institution (+49), followed by the police (+32), radio (+22),
television (+5), justice/national legal system (-1) and the press (-10)). In order
to translate such a formula into a more comparable form, we counted ‘trust
points’, giving 60 points for the first (most trusted) position, 50 points for the
second, etc. So the all-European model formula SSMMSM was ‘translated’ into
130 ‘trust points’ for state institutions (60 points for army, 50 for police and 20
for justice/national legal system) and 80 ‘trust points’ for the media (40 points
for radio, 30 for television and 10 for the press). The difference between state
institutions and the media ‘trust points’ constitutes +50 points, which is the
Comparative Media Trust Index (CMTI). The same model was used for the cal-
culations for all countries surveyed in the Standard Eurobarometer 62 and 74.5
All ranking systems have shortcomings of their own, and the CMTI is not
an exception. We should mention some weaknesses of the CMTI: the very data
used for comparison could be seriously questioned; error limits are ignored; in
diverse cultural environments the understanding of trust may have different
meanings; and attempts to convert qualitative data into quantitative quotients
should always be seriously questioned.
The initial analysis of the CMTI data revealed another weakness of the pro-
posed comparison: countries with a high trust culture (for example the Nether-
lands) received a comparatively low CMTI (-30 in 2004 and +30 in 2010) and
may therefore have been placed in the category of low trust societies. Standard
Eurobarometer data showed that the Dutch have a high level of trust in most
state institutions, but this trust is slightly lower than the trust in media. In or-
der to overcome this shortcoming, we decided to take into consideration ‘gross
trust’ as well. In our case ‘gross trust’ is calculated by summing up (positive
4
In 2004 (Standard Eurobarometer 62), in all European states, the police (except Cyprus) and the army (except
Luxemburg) were among the three most trusted state institutions and were used for comparison. In these two excep-
tions, government and parliament were trusted more. Justice/national legal system was the third candidate in the
‘most trusted trio’. Governments were trusted less and parliament had the worst results. In 2010 (Standard Euroba-
rometer 74), in all European states, the police were among the three most trusted state institutions and were used for
comparison in all cases. The army was not included throughout Europe, except in the case of Sweden (the parliament
is trusted more than the army). Justice/national legal system was displaced from the most trusted institutions trio in
five cases. In Belgium, Luxemburg and Slovakia, the parliament is trusted more, and in Bulgaria and Macedonia, the
government overtook justice.
5
If two institutions were trusted equally, we applied 5 points as well.

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Gintaras Aleknonis Comparing the incomparable:
Trust in media and state institutions

and negative) trust in media and the three most trusted state institutions which
were used for the calculation of the CMTI for each country. The transfer of the
CMTI and ‘gross trust’ (which could be simply called S+M according to the
CMTI calculation formula) into a system of coordinates whereby the CMTI is
plotted on the x axis and S+M on the y axis, helps us to identify different ‘trust
groups’ throughout Europe. While comparing data from 2004 and 2010, we
were therefore able to track certain changes and even notice some tendencies.

Trust quarters and models


The CMTI and its comparison with ‘gross trust’ was used for a pilot analysis
in which we tried to compare trust in media and state institutions throughout
Europe. The analysis was based on the data from the Eurobarometer: publicly
accessible data from the 2004 and 2010 autumn waves of the Standard Euro-
barometer (62, 74) were used. The choice of this time span for the analysis was
principally determined by the availability of comparable data. Nevertheless,
2004 and 2010 are excellent years for the CMTI analysis. 2004 was the year of
the first major EU eastward enlargement, and 2010 was the year of the ‘mature’
economic crisis, which undoubtedly had a profound impact on trust levels.
A six-year time span allows an observation of the changes in the CMTI. The
summarised results are presented in Figures 1 and 2, with more detailed data
available in the annexe.
Formally, all of the analysed countries could be divided into four groups
according to their place in the system of coordinates, with the CMTI and S+M
proportion trend line used as a benchmark line instead of the x axis, and S+M
as the y axis. Countries in ‘the positive gross trust’ zone, which are above the
trend line (this means people in these countries trust state and media more than
the average of all of the analysed countries), could be divided into two sectors,
with a negative CMTI on the left and a positive CMTI on the right. The same
division could be applied to ‘the negative gross trust’ zone as well. An analysis of
data from 2004 and 2010 allows us to divide all European countries into these
four quarters, which – with some reservations – we identify as Transitional,
Nordic, Post-communist and Mediterranean models. Segmentation lines be-
tween the quarters should not be understood as being very strict, and all four
models should be characterised at least in brief.
(1) While comparing 2004 and 2010 data, we found only one ‘permanent
resident’ of the first quarter: Belgium. In the countries attributed to this group,
people’s trust in state and media is higher than average. At the same time
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Comparing the incomparable: Gintaras Aleknonis
Trust in media and state institutions

we could detect an inclination to trust media more than the state (negative
CMTI). Such a position of ‘media-orientated high trust’ for Belgium could
easily be explained by the country’s deep cultural and linguistic division, which
inevitably influences (dis)trust in the state and its institutions while preserv-
ing an overall high level of trust. We presume that a separate evaluation of the
CMTI in Flanders and Wallonia (if we measure trust in local instead of central
government) would provide very different results. This prompted us to name
the first quarter ‘the Transitional Model’. The CMTI measurement for Iceland
in 2010 supported this decision. As a newcomer to the Standard Eurobarom-
eter measurements, Iceland was positioned in the ‘media-orientated high trust’
quarter. The severe financial crisis and loss of trust in government had probably
influenced the CMTI for Iceland; it would be quite natural to presume that
in 2004, Iceland would have been in the ‘state-orientated high trust’ quarter
together with its neighbours Denmark, Sweden and Finland.
Figure 1: Comparative Media Trust Index and ‘gross trust’ (S+M),
European countries in 2004. (Standard Eurobarometer 62 data)

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Trust in media and state institutions

Figure 2: Comparative Media Trust Index and ‘gross trust’ (S+M),


European countries in 2010. (Standard Eurobarometer 74 data)

We can also detect a comparable move in the opposite direction from


the ‘media-orientated high trust’ quarter towards the ‘state-orientated high
trust’ quarter occupied by the Netherlands. In 2004, the Dutch style of trust
was more comparable with that seen in Belgium, but in 2010, it had evolved
towards a Nordic and German style. There may of course be more profound
reasons for such a move, but let us mention that fieldwork for the EB74 was
performed in November 2010, just a few weeks after the formation of the new
Dutch government. The first months of new leadership are often accompanied
by a surge in new public hopes. This may apply to the Dutch situation after
the 2010 snap elections, with devastating results for the largest ruling party, the
worrisome success of Geert Wilders’ extreme right-wing party and the unprec-
edented minority government.

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(2) The second quarter of ‘state-orientated high trust’ countries permanently


(according 2004 and 2010 data) includes the Nordic EU members (Denmark,
Sweden and Finland) and the German-speaking countries of Austria, Germany
and Luxembourg (which is partially German-speaking). In both measurements,
Ireland was on the very edge of the ‘state-orientated high trust’ group. All of the
members of the group are ‘old and mature’ democracies with the exception of
Estonia. In this case, we should take into account the consistent Estonian orien-
tation towards the Nordic dimension. The CMTI analysis indirectly confirms
the success of such a policy and allows us to presume that the fact that Estonia
pushes for distinction from other Baltic states could be more deep-rooted than
generally presumed, as Latvia and Lithuania are nearly permanent members6 of
the third quarter, which is characterised as ‘media-orientated low trust’.
In 2004, the second quarter was much more ‘crowded’ than in 2010, but
according to EB62, some countries (such as Portugal) were literally ‘on the
edge’ of the quarter, while others (Cyprus and Turkey) were near the edge. Dur-
ing the financial crisis, Portugal switched to the Transitional Model, whereas
Cyprus and Turkey could be identified as belonging to the Mediterranean
Model in 2010. Let us point out that the core countries of the Nordic Model
moved in the opposite direction during the financial crisis, when they became
even more trusting and more state orientated.

Figure 3: Four models of trust throughout Europe.

TRANSITIONAL MODEL NORDIC MODEL


MEDIA-ORIENTATED HIGH TRUST STATE-ORIENTATED HIGH TRUST
(BE) (AT, DE, DK, EE, FI, IE, LU, SE)

POST-COMMUNIST MODEL MEDITERRANEAN MODEL


MEDIA-ORIENTATED LOW TRUST STATE-ORIENTATED LOW TRUST
(BG, LT, LV, SI) (EU, ES, FR, HU, IT, MT, UK)

(3) The ‘state-orientated high trust’ group comprises mature democracies


with only one exception, whereas the ‘media-orientated low trust’ quarter is
made up exclusively by ‘new democracies’ with fresh reminiscences of Soviet-
dominated communism. So its identification as a Post-communist Model ap-
6
According to the 2004 Eurobarometer measurement, Latvia and Lithuania could be called ‘the third quarter border
countries’. Together with Slovenia they were on the edge of the first quarter.

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pears quite natural. Permanent members of the group besides the previously
mentioned two Baltic states include Slovenia and Bulgaria. In 2004, Romania
was in the first quarter, but in 2010 moved well into the third. Czech Repub-
lic and Slovakia moved in the opposite direction during the same years, while
Poland left the third quarter for the fourth (in fact, Poland changed places with
Croatia).
(4) The fourth quarter is comprised of ‘state-orientated low trust’ countries,
and includes all measurements of EU averages (EU15 and EU25 in 2004 and
EU27 in 2010) and such individual countries as the Mediterranean states (Italy,
France, Malta, Spain), the United Kingdom and Hungary. Besides these ‘perma-
nent’ members of the group, the so-called Mediterranean Model should include
Cyprus, Greece and Turkey, which were on the ‘edge’ of the ‘state-orientated
high trust’ countries in 2004, but moved very clearly into the fourth quarter in
2010. It is evident that the United Kingdom and Hungary somehow dropped
out of the geographical definition of the Mediterranean Model. There are no
doubts that the United Kingdom had nourished a unique media consumption
model, which could naturally lead to a distinctive mode of trust. Traditionally,
the Anglo-Saxon world is associated with the Nordic or Germanic way of life.
The CMTI analysis could lead to the revision of some stereotypes. But it is too
early to draw any conclusions. Hungary is the only post-communist country
which in both measurements found itself in the Mediterranean Model. Some
explanations of the Hungarian case could be associated with the recent past:
Goulash Communism (gulyáskommunizmus) helped Hungarians find a very
special place in the former Warsaw Pact zone, which in its own term influenced
Hungarian distinctiveness.
At this stage of research, it would probably be too early and too bold to
draw any conclusions. The idea of four models of trust needs more compre-
hensive analysis, but we should note that the comparison of different models of
trust could serve as a potential instrument for a deeper understanding of the so-
ciety, state and media triangle. Comparing trust in media and state institutions
has a potential to show the levels of democratisation of society: the difference
between trust and doubt in democratically elected bodies and unelected com-
mercial media enterprises indirectly shows peoples’ satisfaction with the state of
democracy and its perspectives.

CM : Communication Management Quarterly : Časopis za upravljanje komuniciranjem 26 (2013) 125–144 © 2013 CDC and author(s) 135
Comparing the incomparable: Gintaras Aleknonis
Trust in media and state institutions

Four trust models and three media systems


In order to assess the ‘four models of trust’, we tried to compare them with
already existing studies. From our point of view, the famous and influential
research work Comparing Media Systems: Three Models of Media and Politics by
Hallin and Mancini (2004) provides us with an excellent foundation. After a
comprehensive comparative study of 18 western democracies, the authors iden-
tified three media systems: Mediterranean or polarised pluralist (France, Greece,
Italy, Portugal, Spain); North/Central Europe or democratic corporatist (Aus-
tria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden,
Switzerland); and North Atlantic or liberal (United Kingdom, United States,
Canada, Ireland). According to Hallin and Mancini, “[t]he discussions of the
three media system models are essentially organised around the four variables
[…]: the development of media markets and particularly of the mass circula-
tion press, political parallelism, journalistic professionalism, and the role of the
state [in media system]” (Hallin & Mancini, 2004: 87). Hallin and Mancini
were analysing ‘mature’ western democracies, while such newborn (or reborn)
democracies as central and eastern European countries were out of their sphere
of interest; in our measurements we do not examine such non-EU countries as
Norway, Switzerland, United States or Canada. Nevertheless, comparisons have
various similarities and the potential to strengthen both argumentations.
Nearly all countries (except the Netherlands in 2004, Portugal in 2010 and
Belgium in both measurements) analysed by Hallin and Mancini belong to the
two models of trust which we identify as ‘state orientated’. This allows us to
presume that the positive or negative CMTI (i.e. the difference between trust
in state institutions and media) could be one of the important signs of a ‘mature
democracy’. The abovementioned ‘unusual’ position of Belgium, the ‘migra-
tion’ of the Netherlands and Portugal, as well as the position of Iceland support
the opinion that a ‘media-orientated high trust’ model could be referred to as
‘transitional’, as an appearance in this quarter of the CMTI could be interpreted
as a sign of crisis for a mature democracy or a transitional point for a new one.
All of the countries which were permanently – or at least in one of the meas-
urements – identified as ‘media-orientated low trust’ were out of the scope of
research of Hallin and Mancini (2004). Such a situation supports our idea that
the ‘media-orientated low trust’ style of trust is characteristic of post-commu-
nist societies. In the creation of democratic institutions, joining the European
Union is probably a quicker process than the transition from one model of trust
to another. The media system which Hallin and Mancini (2004) referred to as

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Gintaras Aleknonis Comparing the incomparable:
Trust in media and state institutions

“Mediterranean or polarised pluralist” very much fits our ‘state-orientated low


trust’ model, in the same was as “North/Central Europe or democratic corpo-
ratist” corresponds to the ‘state-orientated high trust’ model. Countries referred
to by Hallin and Mancini (2004) as “North Atlantic or liberal” are somewhere
in between. Such a positioning of the North Atlantic or liberal media system
comes as a surprise. We lack comparable data for a more precise description of
the North Atlantic or liberal media system, as the United States and Canada are
beyond the limits of our study. But data from the United Kingdom and Ireland
predict that North Atlantic or liberal media system countries remind us more
of the Mediterranean or polarised pluralist than the North/Central Europe
or democratic corporatist media system. But we should take into account the
unique British model of trust. The United Kingdom has the lowest level of trust
in the press (minus 68 and minus 61 in 2004 and 2010 respectively), which,
together with a large circulation of tabloid newspapers, allows us to speak of
some sort of communicative game, whereby press customers like the product
and use it, but do not trust it. Recent developments in the United Kingdom
confirm that such a situation cannot last for long and its impact on society is
contradictive. As Steven Barnett critically notes, “[j]ournalism’s decline cannot,
therefore, be seen in isolation from a more widespread phenomenon of declin-
ing faith. […] [T]he scale and speed of the decline in trust is a serious issue”
(Barnett, 2008: 10).
These efforts to look for links between three media systems and four trust
models lead to the idea that the evolution of trust in democratic societies may
develop in slightly different forms and that media systems may be influenced
by this evolution. At this point in our research it is difficult to conclude with
certainty that either the established media system determines the model of trust
or the model of trust helps build the system. Here we would like to mention
the following remark by Kathleen Jamieson and Joseph Cappella: “We do know
that people do not trust the mainstream media and that those who trust it least
are also those most interested in public policy” (Jamieson & Cappella, 1997:
213).
Trust models dominating different media systems allow us to look back at
delicate problems in civic society, its forms and its maturity. In this context, we
should make a brief reference to Jürgen Habermas and his ideas about the pub-
lic sphere and civil society, which “came into existence as the corollary of a dep-
ersonalised state authority” (Habermas, 2008: 19). Habermas’ ideas about the
public sphere as the space between civil society and the state could be useful for

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Comparing the incomparable: Gintaras Aleknonis
Trust in media and state institutions

future research. Here we should also mention John Nerone’s view that [public]
“space allows citizens to address the state but demands that they leave their indi-
vidual interests behind when they do so” (Nerone, 1995: 154). The demand to
surrender egoistic interests applies to media organisations as well. The maturity
of democracy or the public sphere is a comparative category which could be
understood in a different manner. But at this point we do not doubt that one
of the most important questions may be the congruence between media system
and model of trust.

Concluding remarks
Trust is always a risk. One of the principal questions which is raised in every
society is how this risk should be divided and managed. In this article our at-
tention was focused on the primary sources of societal trust and the division of
this trust between media and state institutions. It is hard to imagine democracy
without the fierce competition of ideas, and the division of this battlefield al-
ways looks a bit artificial. Both sides (media and state or political institutions)
in this fight for democracy deserve respect and should be nourished. In this
case, the promotion of competition while at the same time maintaining the
balance helps create a foundation for societal peace.
The state has administrative restrictive powers and always appears to be
more powerful. This image is successfully cultivated by the media and is indi-
rectly supported by politicians who often feel a temptation to use their author-
ity. On the other hand, the media are not always on the weak side in the compe-
tition with politics. The media business is huge and influential, and has its own
interests. Risks of media-democracy and its special type of TV-democracy are
not imaginable. And ‘infotainment’ is only a side effect of this disease. Other
symptoms should include “a corrosive individualism, a psychological impulse,
negative, anti-institutional, sloganeering campaigns, and disjunctures between
the promise and performance of leaders [which] may have contributed to the
escalation in public cynicism about institutions” (Jamieson & Cappella, 1997:
29).
The first insights gained through the CMTI regarding the balance between
trust in media and state institutions throughout Europe could lead to rather
optimistic conclusions. In experienced democracies, primary trust lies in demo-
cratically elected state institutions, and trust in media could be characterised as
secondary. Countries with fresh reminiscences of a totalitarian past still live in a
transitional period where the understanding of roles of the state and the media

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Gintaras Aleknonis Comparing the incomparable:
Trust in media and state institutions

is influenced by difficult memories of distrust. Perhaps we can imagine a ‘spiral


of trust’ which differs from a well-known ‘spiral of silence’. ‘The spiral of trust’
is in permanent movement: it shrinks and expands. The distribution of trust is
an everlasting search for balance. Throughout Europe, different phases of this
process can now be seen.

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Comparing the incomparable: Gintaras Aleknonis
Trust in media and state institutions

References
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ficacy. European Journal of Communication, 27(1), 35–45.
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bridge: Polity Press.
Hallin, D. C. & Mancini, P. B. (2004). Comparing Media Systems: Three Models
of Media and Politics. Cambridge, New York, Melbourne: Cambridge Uni-
versity Press.
Jamieson, K. H. & Cappella, J. N. (1997). Spiral of Cynicism : The Press and the
Public Good. Cary: Oxford University Press.
Kohring, M. & Matthes, J. (2007). Trust in News Media: Development and
Validation of a Multidimensional Scale. Communication Research, 34(2),
231–252.
Luhmann, N. (1979). Trust and Power. New York: John Wiley.
Misztal, B. A. (1996). Trust in Modern Society: The Search for the Bases of Social
Order. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Nerone, J. C. (ed.) (1995). Last Rights: Revisiting Four Theories of the Press, Chi-
cago: University of Illinois Press.
Newton, K. (2007). Social and Political Trust. In Dalton, R. J. & Klingemann,
H. D. (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Political Behavior. New York: Oxford
University Press, pp. 342 – 361.
Seligman, A. B. (1997). The Problem of Trust. Princeton: Princeton University
Press.
Standard Eurobarometer 62 (2004). Tables of results. Accessed 12.01.2012.
URL: http://ec.europa.eu/public_opinion/archives/eb/eb62/eb62_en.htm.
Standard Eurobarometer 74 (2010). Tables of results. Accessed 12.01.2012.
URL: http://ec.europa.eu/public_opinion/archives/eb/eb74/eb74_en.htm.

140 CM : Communication Management Quarterly : Časopis za upravljanje komuniciranjem 26 (2013) 125–144 © 2013 CDC and author(s)
ANNEXE: Comparative Media Trust Index (CMTI) calculation

Table 1: Comparative Media Trust Index (CMTI) calculation 2004.


Gintaras Aleknonis

State
Media
EB 62 Justice Police Army Government Parliament Press Radio TV Formula Institution CMTI S+M
Points
Points

EU15 3 41 47 -22 -9 -11 32 3 SSMSMM 135 75 60 115

EU25 -4 33 47 -26 -17 -10 32 5 SSMMSM 130 80 50 103

BE 17 19 35 -19 -3 3 38 25 MSMSSM 100 110 -10 137

BG -45 -2 27 -37 -54 -7 22 36 MSMSMS 90 120 -30 39

CZ -29 -21 18 -39 -57 10 51 37 MMSMSS 70 140 -70 66

DK 63 75 54 17 46 -10 48 34 SSSMMM 150 60 90 264

DE 22 64 53 -28 -15 -2 38 25 SSMMSM 130 80 50 200

DE-W 25 65 53 -27 -12 -2 42 25 SSMSMM 135 75 60 208

DE-E 13 58 49 -31 -28 -3 22 26 SSMMSM 130 80 50 165

EE 0 27 63 0 -10 -6 42 43 SMMSSM 110 100 10 169

IE 2 34 57 -13 -8 -25 54 37 SMMSSM 110 100 10 159

EL 33 31 66 5 25 -15 9 -23 SSSMMM 150 60 90 101

ES -4 27 29 10 5 12 36 -9 MSSMSM 110 100 10 105

FR -17 24 48 -36 -15 1 18 -27 SSMMSM 130 80 50 13

CM : Communication Management Quarterly : Časopis za upravljanje komuniciranjem 26 (2013) 125–144 © 2013 CDC and author(s)
IT -18 32 35 -34 -28 -11 17 -10 SSMMMS 120 90 30 45

CY 30 28 60 35 32 -2 30 28 SSSMMM 150 60 90 183

141
Trust in media and state institutions
Comparing the incomparable:
State

142
Media
EB 62 Justice Police Army Government Parliament Press Radio TV Formula Institution CMTI S+M
Points
Points

LV -18 -10 19 -41 -50 7 37 43 MMSMSS 70 140 -70 78

LT -33 -27 47 -16 -46 7 36 32 MMSMSS 70 140 -70 79

LU 23 42 38 45 41 12 23 17 SSSMMM 150 60 90 180

HU 13 25 25 -10 -14 -23 8 9 SSSMMM 150 60 90 57

MT
Comparing the incomparable:

-16 46 57 7 5 -20 -1 0 SSSMMM 150 60 90 89

NL 19 31 43 -21 2 29 57 41 MSMSMS 90 120 -30 220


Trust in media and state institutions

AT 44 55 49 1 18 -11 45 38 SSMSMM 140 70 70 220

PL -61 -13 54 -69 -79 -5 30 6 SMMMSS 90 120 -30 11

PT -23 28 45 -39 -6 -18 39 31 SMMSSM 110 100 10 119

RO -37 -21 53 -12 -28 21 48 47 SMMMSS 90 120 -30 136

SI -37 1 27 -20 -17 1 39 34 MMSMSS 75 135 -60 85

SK -38 -25 31 -49 -42 8 49 34 MMSMSS 70 140 -70 59

FI 48 82 87 36 38 10 59 44 SSMSMM 140 70 70 330

SE 23 45 28 -10 19 -18 50 29 SMMSSM 110 100 10 157

UK 5 49 64 -32 -17 -68 37 -8 SSMSMM 140 70 70 79

HR -43 9 34 -38 -41 -26 12 4 SMSMMS 110 100 10 -5

TR 34 40 79 63 56 -25 5 -2 SSSMMM 150 60 90 176

Data: Standard Eurobarometer 62 (2004). Tables of results.


http://ec.europa.eu/public_opinion/archives/eb/eb62/eb62_en.htm

CM : Communication Management Quarterly : Časopis za upravljanje komuniciranjem 26 (2013) 125–144 © 2013 CDC and author(s)
Gintaras Aleknonis
Table 2: Comparative Media Trust Index (CMTI) calculation 2010.
State
Media
Eb 74 Justice Police Army Government Parliament Press Radio Tv Formula Institution Cmti S+M
Points
Points

EU -1 32 49 -39 -31 -10 22 5 SSMMSM 130 80 50 97


Gintaras Aleknonis

BE -36 31 38 -39 -25 20 48 39 MMSSMS 80 130 -50 151

BG -58 -8 15 -21 -50 -5 18 43 MMSMSS 70 140 -70 42

CZ -28 -6 24 -46 -63 18 45 43 MMSMSS 70 140 -70 96

DK 70 79 58 -19 35 -6 46 35 SSSMMM 150 60 90 282

DE 26 58 51 -30 -12 4 39 21 SSMSMM 140 70 70 199

EE 18 50 69 14 -17 3 44 40 SSMMSM 130 80 50 224

IE -7 35 54 -75 -69 -18 30 20 SSMMSM 130 80 50 114

EL -15 6 37 -55 -49 -44 -25 -57 SSSMMM 150 60 90 -98

ES -7 40 44 -53 -47 -16 5 -16 SSMSMM 140 70 70 50

FR -5 28 51 -51 -37 0 13 -29 SSMMSM 130 80 50 58

IT -10 24 37 -47 -39 -11 10 -12 SSMSMM 140 70 70 38

CY 14 5 38 -4 -6 -2 20 -13 SMSSMM 130 80 50 62

LV -18 -3 44 -56 -66 -9 25 28 SMMSMS 100 110 -10 67

LT -47 -4 35 -65 -84 -7 26 9 SMMSMS 100 110 -10 12

LU 31 56 41 40 32 14 30 9 SSSMMM 150 60 90 182

CM : Communication Management Quarterly : Časopis za upravljanje komuniciranjem 26 (2013) 125–144 © 2013 CDC and author(s)
HU 10 23 29 3 0 -13 12 12 SSMMSM 130 80 50 73

MT 0 44 66 -16 -11 -8 10 11 SSMMSM 130 80 50 123

143
Trust in media and state institutions
Comparing the incomparable:
State

144
Media
Eb 74 Justice Police Army Government Parliament Press Radio Tv Formula Institution Cmti S+M
Points
Points

NL 33 48 50 0 15 32 57 32 MSSSMM 120 90 30 252

AT 45 58 52 -1 4 21 41 36 SSSMMM 150 60 90 253

PL -15 17 55 -33 -42 -7 26 9 SMSMMS 110 100 10 85

PT -40 19 30 -58 -41 16 26 33 MSMSMS 90 120 -30 84

RO
Comparing the incomparable:

-45 -21 28 -71 -76 -9 10 11 SMMMSS 90 120 -30 -26

SI -52 -1 16 -62 -66 -19 13 14 SMMSMS 100 110 -10 -29


Trust in media and state institutions

SK -33 -5 48 -24 -22 20 56 37 MSMMSS 80 130 -50 134

FI 56 83 84 4 10 15 56 45 SSSMMM 145 65 80 339

SE 48 65 35 28 45 14 60 43 SMSSMM 130 80 50 275

UK 5 45 75 -40 -39 -61 17 6 SSMMSM 130 80 50 87

HR -56 -11 18 -78 -78 -25 3 0 SMMSMS 100 110 -10 -71

TR 10 23 43 -6 0 -40 -35 -28 SSSMMM 150 60 90 -27

MK -48 -16 25 -41 -50 -20 -14 10 SMMSMS 100 110 -10 -56

IS 26 85 -30 -41 -40 -2 56 45 SMMSMS 100 110 -10 180

Data: Standard Eurobarometer 74 (2010). Tables of results.


http://ec.europa.eu/public_opinion/archives/eb/eb74/eb74_en.htm

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Gintaras Aleknonis
Institutional trust in the Croatian
post-socialist context1

Antonija Čuvalo2
Faculty of Political Science, University of Zagreb, Croatia

doi:10.5937/comman1326145C

Summary: The purpose of this article is to determine the position of trust in media
in relation to trust in other political institutions in Croatia. The main assumption is
that institutional trust is a multidimensional phenomenon, which is as such evaluated
by citizens who are able to distinguish different institutions and evaluate them according
to individual performance. Furthermore, the article aims to define the determinants of
each underlying dimension of institutional trust. The study draws from data gathered
within the project Trust in Media 2009, on a nationally representative sample for
Croatia (n=1000). First, dimensions of trust were defined by the method of principal
components (Varimax). The results confirmed the multidimensionality of institutional
trust. Five dimensions (sub-scales) of institutional trust were extracted: trust in party
and business elite, trust in state institutions, trust in cultural elite, trust in EU and
trust in media. Results did not confirm the hypothesis on trust in media as a completely
independent dimension of institutional trust. Second, inter-correlation and regression
analysis was applied in order to determine trust in different dimensions of institutional
trust. Frequency of media use proved to be the best predictor of institutional trust. Fre-
quency of television viewing has a positive effect on trust in state institutions, while there
was no evidence of the effect of reading daily newspapers on trust.

Keywords: trust in media, trust in social and political institutions, dimensions of


trust, post-socialist societies, media and democracy

The main purpose of this article is to determine the position of trust in


media in relation to trust in other political institutions in Croatia. Trust is in
contemporary social thought considered important as an essential element of
the socio-cultural potential of each society (Nikodem & Črpić, 2011; Trzun,
1
Research for this paper was conducted within the project 'Media culture in contemporary Croatia: media pluralism
and media politics' at the Centre for Media and communication research, Faculty of political science, University in
Zagreb, funded by the Ministry of Science, Education and Sport.
2
antonija.cuvalo@fpzg.hr

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Institutional trust in the Croatian post-socialist context Antonija Čuvalo

2012). Trust in a system’s institutions is at the same time a basis and a condition
for its effectiveness and represents the core element of its legitimation (Coleman,
2012; Gross et al., 2004; Khodyakov, 2007; Mishler & Rose, 2001; Šporer &
Sekulić, 2011; Trzun 2012). Trust is considered important for maintaining social
order and social cohesion especially in ‘risky’ (Beck 1992; Giddens 1990) and
‘large-scale’ complex modern societies where people, groups and institutions are
continuously in situations where they have to make ‘risky decisions’ (Kohring &
Matthes, 2007; Gross et al., 2004). As an important element of a system’s legiti-
mation, the issue of trust is especially important in transitional societies where, as
many empirical studies show, distrust in institutions, cynicism or strong scepti-
cism pervade (Catterberg & Moreno, 2005; Dmitrova-Grajzl & Simon, 2010;
Luengo & Maurer, 2009; Mishler & Rose, 2001; Pehlivanova, 2009; Rimac &
Štulhofer, 2004; Trzun, 2012; Šalaj, 2006). According to American political sci-
entists William Mishler and Richard Rose (2001), trust is learned and linked to
some level of experience through lifetime learning experiences. They argue that
contemporary institutional trust is a product of past political trust modified by
recent performance experiences.
The main focus here is impersonal trust or trust in institutions and not (strong
or weak) interpersonal trust (Khodyakov, 2007; Mishler & Rose, 2001; Newton
& Norris, 1999). Kenneth Newton and Pippa Norris (1999, versus for example
Putnam, 2000) argue that in modern societies, social and political stability de-
pends on institutional trust rather than on trust in individuals and the quality of
interpersonal relations (similar in Khodyakov, 2007 and Mischer & Rose, 2001).
Numerous authors have been drawing attention to the continuous decline
of trust in political institutions, including trust in media in developed Western
democracies (Cook & Gronke, 2001; Golding et al., 2012; Gross et al., 2004;
Quandt, 2012, Newton & Norris, 1999; Norris, 1999; Van Zoonen, 2012),
and relatively low levels of trust in Eastern and Southeastern European post-
socialist societies (Mishler & Rose, 2001; Rimac & Štulhofer, 2004; Trzun,
2012). However, this decline is neither homogenous nor unidirectional (Cook
& Gronke, 2001; Šporer & Sekulić, 2011). Previous empirical studies (Cook
& Gronke, 2001) on the dimensionality of institutional trust within the es-
tablished democratic framework showed that media are usually evaluated as a
part of civil society (Lipset & Schneider, 1987), the private/non-profit sector
(Newton & Norris, 1999) or the opposition (Dohring, 1992). This is opposite
to the situation in post-socialist countries, where studies from the first decade
of the transitional period revealed one general dimension of institutional trust/
distrust (Mishler & Rose, 2001; Rimac, 2000).

146 CM : Communication Management Quarterly : Časopis za upravljanje komuniciranjem 26 (2013) 145–164 © 2013 CDC and author(s)
Antonija Čuvalo Institutional trust in the Croatian post-socialist context

Croatia is usually classified as a Central and Eastern or Southeastern Eu-


ropean country and is a country of relatively low institutional trust and social
trust (Baloban & Rimac, 1999; Nikodem & Črpić, 2011). Various studies on
trends in institutional trust in Croatia conducted since the 1990s also reveal its
dynamic and multidimensional nature (Baloban & Rimac, 1999; Rimac, 2000;
Šporer & Sekulić, 2011). Mishler and Rose (2001) point out the possible dif-
ference in the dimensionality of institutional trust in new democracies when
compared to established democracies where citizens:
“...may be capable of distinguishing the contributions of different institu-
tions to overall government performance, [whereas] citizens in new democ-
racies have difficulty making fine-grained distinctions, about institutions
[with] which they have so little familiarity or experience” (2001: 42–3).
Nevertheless, trust in media can be analysed as an aspect of institutional
trust, which is considered as an important indicator of the social system per-
formance and satisfaction with the political system, providing a basis for their
legitimation (Šporer & Sekulić, 2011). Media as social institutions play an
important role in democratic societies as intermediaries between representa-
tives and the public. According to British sociologist and media scholar John B.
Thompson (1995), mass media had an important role in the development of
institutions, through its various genres, people’s perceptions, beliefs and behav-
iours, (Thompson, 1995). Modern democracies “rely upon informed consent
of citizens” and “citizens are expected to be aware of polices and events that are
likely to affect them, and capable of expressing occasional preferences at the
ballot box” (Coleman, 2012: 35)3.
The broad framework as well as the rationale of my research question refers
to the role of the Croatian media in a democratic political system, particularly
regarding trust in political institutions. The aim is to reveal the underlying di-
mensions of institutional trust and to determine the role of trust in media in
relation to trust in institutions. The main assumption is that institutional trust
is a multidimensional phenomenon, which is as such evaluated by citizens who
are able to distinguish different institutions and evaluate them according to
individual performance. To answer this question, the position of trust in media
in relation to institutional trust will be analysed based on data gathered within
the project Trust in media on a nationally representative sample for Croatia
(n=1000).
3 
Even though trust is considered as a necessary condition for the functioning of democratic systems, distrust also
represents the core element of democracy, in the form of legitimate criticism (Catterberg & Moreno, 2005; Moy et
al., 2005; Šalaj, 2006). Importance of trust for a democracy was also emphasized by Berto Šalaj (2006), who reminds
us that the idea of modern democracy is based on political distrust in traditional institutions

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Institutional trust in the Croatian post-socialist context Antonija Čuvalo

Trust in media as a dimension of institutional trust


In contemporary Western political thought, trust in media is related to trust
in democratic political institutions, democracy and democratic values as the
basis for the functioning of the democratic system (Mishler & Rose, 2001). It
is considered important for civic engagement, healthy and stable democracy
(Jones, 2004; Moy et al., 2005).
The significance of trust in communication media in democratic political
systems is based on the assumption of the effect of the media on citizens’ politi-
cal behaviour, including political participation (Kohring & Mathes, 2007; Moy
et al., 2005; Norris, 1999; Norris & Ingelhart, 2009; Newton & Norris, 1999;
Pehlivanova, 2009). Underlying such research is the acknowledgment that
news media may be at least one of the influences on social (interpersonal trust),
political and institutional trust and on political participation (Gross et al.,
2004). However, there is no agreement between researchers about the nature of
media effects on political attitudes and behaviour. The contribution of media
to trust in institutions is analysed in literature through attempts to answer the
question regarding the relationship between the exposure to mass communica-
tion and trust in political institutions. Relying on the ‘cultivation theory’, the
proponents of the media malaise approach, argue about the negative effect of
media on trust in political institutions (Luengo & Maurer, 2009: 40; Pharr &
Putnam, 2000).
Based on numerous empirical studies, the approach known as theories of
political mobilisation (further developed in the virtuous circle theory by Norris
& Ingelhart, 2009) opposes the main argument of the media malaise theory
(Luengo & Maurer 2009: 40; Norris & Ingelhart, 2009). Both media malaise
as well as political mobilisation presuppose the significant role of media on trust
in political institutions, but they differ in the definition of the direction of this
effect. Advocates of the political mobilisation approach exhibit ample empirical
evidence which shows the positive correlation between regular consumption of
news media and interest in politics, political knowledge, civil engagement and
institutional trust. Exposure to sensationalistic content is, within this frame-
work, related to political dissatisfaction, cynicism and alienation (Luengo &
Maurer, 2009; Norris & Ingelhart, 2009).
An important variable for the explanation of the relationship between
political communication and political trust is the character of media content.
Michael J. Robinson (1976 cited in Gross et al., 2004: 51) was one of the first
scholars who emphasises that the interpretative, negative and anti-institutional

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character of political coverage on television increases political cynicism. Regard-


ing the impact on trust of the interest in media coverage of politics, an interest-
ing point is made by Luengo and Maurer (2009). Although the vast number of
empirical studies show that regular readers – compared to non-readers – of daily
informative press express a lower level of political disaffection (measured by trust
in the national parliament) there was no evidence for the thesis that watching
TV news has a similar positive effect (Luengo & Maurer, 2009: 41). In order
to fill this gap, political communication scholars Oscar Luengo and Marcus
Maurer (2009: 42), following Almond and Verba’s argumentation, suggest that
it would be useful to control the impact of political culture, the characteristics
of the political system and journalistic culture in order to better explain the
relationship between political communication and civic engagement (which is
considered as an indicator of media system quality performance). Their analysis
of European countries show the lowest level of exposure to political media con-
tent in Central and East European countries, where the lowest level of political
(institutional) trust was also measured. However, this pattern did not occur
uniformly in the old members of European Union where there were significant
differences between Western, Southern and Northern countries (Luengo &
Maurer, 2009: 44).
Media as social institutions are at the same time important societal ‘au-
tonomous expert systems’ (Giddens, 1990; Kohring & Matthes, 2007) with a
significant role in democratic societies as intermediaries between representatives
and the public. Media provide citizens with information, necessary for coping
successfully with everyday activities and demands. Media as ‘knowledge insti-
tutions’ or ‘autonomous expert systems’ depend on trust to be considered as
relevant (Van Zoonen, 2012). As members of audiences, we cannot control the
effectiveness of media as ‘knowledge institutions’, due to our lack of knowledge,
time and money (Kohring & Matthes, 2007; Tsfati & Cappella, 2003). That is
to say, we have to trust them.
When I analyse the role of the media regarding trust in political systems,
it is important to know how distinct the perception of trust in media is from
trust in political institutions. In order to answer this question, American mass
communication scholar Timothy E. Cook and political scientists Paul Gronke
(2001) analysed data regarding trust in institutions for each of the twenty years
of the GSS from 1973 to 1998 (General Social Survey of the National Opin-
ion Research Center at the University of Chicago). They tested five theoretical
models of the dimensionality of institutional trust: 1) non-dimensionality; 2)

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one-dimensional model; 3) Lipset-Schneider’s bi-factorial model, where one di-


mension comprises trust in press and television as indicators of trust in media,
while the second comprises trust in political institutions; 4) Newton-Norris’
two-dimensional model, with the first dimension of trust in public institutions
(trust in parliament, legal system, police, civil service and armed forces), and
the second dimension of trust in private and non-profit institutions (the civil
service, the education system, the church, major companies, the press and trade
unions), where trust in media is an element of trust in private and non-profit
institutions; and 5) Dohring’s three-factorial model, where one dimension is
trust in institutions of social order (economy, religion, health insurance, science
and armed forces), the second dimension is trust in political institutions (parlia-
ment, executive branch and supreme court) and the third dimension is trust in
opposition (unions, educational leaders, print and television). Results revealed a
two-dimensional structure of institutional trust, where trust in media follows a
different logic from trust in other institutions (Cook & Gronke, 2001).
In all four studies (Cook & Gronke, 2001; Dohring, 1992; Lipset & Sch-
neider, 1987; Newton & Norris, 2000), the theoretical and empirical models
tested in Western democracies (non-dimensional and one-dimensional were
hypothetical models) showed that trust in media is independent from trust in
political institutions. This is similar to Mishler and Rose’s (2001) argument
regarding undifferentiated trust in political institutions at the beginning of
the transitional process. In Croatia, the dimensions of institutional trust were
examined in a few studies published at the end of the first decade of the demo-
cratic transition (Baloban & Rimac, 1999; Rimac, 2000) and more recently
between 2000 and 2010 (Šporer & Sekulić, 2011). Croatian sociologist Ivan
Rimac (2000) analysed summarised data on trust in institutions in Croatia,
gathered as a part of the project Faith and moral in 1997 and the European
Value Survey (1999). Rimac discerned the one-dimensional structure of trust
in measured institutions – church, army, educational system, print, trade unions,
police, parliament, public service, welfare, EU, UN, NATO, health system, judici-
ary and big companies. His study shows that trust in media followed the same
logic as trust in other institutions.
More recent studies (Šporer & Sekulić, 2011) carried out in the 2000s (the
first wave was in 2004 and the second, in 2010) show that trust in media such
as print and television, actually increased while trust in some other institu-
tions, such as the church, government and parliament, dropped significantly.
Croatian sociologists Željka Šporer and Duško Sekulić relate this raise in trust

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in media to the role that Croatian media (especially print media) have played
since the end of 2009 in revealing political corruption. Furthermore, within
their study, trust in media was evaluated as independent from trust in other
institutions, which could indicate a significant (but perhaps temporary) differ-
entiation between perceptions of media performance and perceptions of other
political and social institutions. My study deals with data gathered at this criti-
cal point regarding trust in Croatian media, before the peak in media coverage
of political corruption (two months after Prime Minister Sanader resigned from
this position without any explanation, and almost one year before he was ar-
rested and indicted for corruption).

Study design
In order to determine the position of trust in media in relation to trust in
other political institutions in Croatia, I analysed data gathered in autumn 2009
as part of the project Trust in Media conducted by the Faculty of political sci-
ence, University of Zagreb. Data were gathered by the method of an in-house
(pen and paper) questionnaire on the nationally representative sample (ac-
cording to age, gender, education and region) of 1,000 adult Croatian citizens
(18+). Data from this survey are used for the purposes of this paper in order
to determine the role of trust in media. First, patterns of inter-correlations
between trust in media and trust in other institutions are analysed in detail.
Furthermore, determinants of trust in media are assessed through the analysis
of correlations between media use and trust in media and respective institu-
tions. Finally, an analysis of socio-demographic determinants of trust in media
is presented.
Empirical and theoretical models tested in Western democracies suggest
that trust in media is a dimension independent from trust in other political
institutions (Cook & Gronke, 2001). Based on these respective cases (Cook
& Gronke, 2001; Mishler & Rose, 2001) and on recent assessments of the
Croatian media system (Peruško, 2011), the first assumption is that evaluations
of political institutions are more differentiated (multidimensional) than in
previous studies conducted in Croatia where a one-dimensional structure was
measured (H1). Additionally, the second assumption is that trust in media in
Croatia is an independent dimension, different from trust in political institu-
tions (H2). Regardless of some problems that still occur, media are regulated
according to democratic standards, and the mainstream media do not question
democracy as a political regime (Peruško, 2011). Based on this, we could as-
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sume that media would receive a better evaluation than political institutions,
which are faced with deep crises (resignation of prime minister Ivo Sanader
indicted for corruption, corruption affairs and economic recession).
Based on the abovementioned empirical studies (Gross et al., 2004; Luengo
& Maurer, 2009), a third assumption is made, which posits a higher level of
trust in political institutions among those who read daily newspapers, than
among those who rely mostly on television (H3). Furthermore, as patterns of
the relationship between socio-demographic indicators (age, income, educa-
tion, settlement) and institutional trust in Western democratic societies differ
from respective patterns in Central and Eastern European countries (Mishler
& Rose, 2001; Šporer & Sekulić, 2011), we additionally tested correlations
between dimensions of institutional trust and respective socio-demographic
indicators. It is important to note that empirical studies on the relationship
between socio-demographic variables and trust revealed strong correlations
for many developed Western societies, while in Central and Eastern Euro-
pean countries this relationship was weak (Mishler & Rose, 2001; Šporer &
Sekulić, 2011). The following indicators – which were confirmed as important
for explaining institutional trust in various studies in established democracies
(Mishler & Rose, 2001; Sztompka, 1999) – were analysed: age, self-reported
economic position as an indicator of wealth and educational level. Based on this
difference, we assume that socio-demographic indicators are not correlated with
institutional trust. In brief, the following hypothesis will be tested:

H1: I nstitutional trust is a multidimensional phenomenon.


H2: Trust in media is independent from trust in other institutions.
H3: The frequency of reading daily newspapers is significantly and positive-
ly correlated with institutional trust, while the frequency of watching
television has a negative effect on institutional trust.
H4: S ocio-demographic indicators have no effect on institutional trust.

The instrument used for measuring trust in institutions as a part of the Trust
in media 2009 project was comprised of 19 items, covering state and political
institutions (government, parliament, president, Croatian army and police, parties
and preferred party), public institutions (educational institutions), civil sector
(NGOs, trade unions) international organisations/entities (EU, international
media) and national media, together with some important social stakeholders

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from different sectors (party leaders, leader of preferred party, top managers, scien-
tists and journalists). Respondents were asked to evaluate each of these institu-
tions on a 5-point scale, where 1 indicates the highest distrust and 5 indicates
the highest level of trust, by answering the question: “How much do you trust in
each of the following institutions?”
Furthermore, trust in different types of media (TV, radio, daily newspapers,
internet and weekly newspapers) is analysed in order to explain in more detail
the dimension of trust in media and other institutions.
An exploratory factor analysis (method of principal components) was
conducted on 244 items in total.5 These items could be divided into two
broad categories: first, trust in major institutions, and second, trust in major
stakeholders. The first category comprises the following items: trust in state and
public institutions (government, parliament, police, army and educational in-
stitutions), civil society institutions (trade unions, NGOs) trust in institutions of
representative democracy (political parties), trust in the European Union, foreign
media and church. The second category (trust in major stakeholders) comprises
trust in the leader of the party they voted for, trust in business elite and trust
in honoured intellectuals, journalists and scientists. In order to find the best
predictors of different types of institutional trust, hierarchical multiple regres-
sion was applied (backward) with dimensions (sub-scales) of trust (trust in party
and economic elite, trust in state institutions, trust in cultural and political elite,
trust in EU and trust in media) as dependent variables and frequency of media
use as independent variables. Media use was measured by a 5-point scale, where
1 indicates very rare usage and 5 indicates a high frequency of media use. It is
important to know that this scale does not show how much respondents use
media for gathering political information. Although we do not have informa-
tion for each analysed medium about the percentage of use for gathering po-
litical information, it may be indicative that only 7% of respondents from our
sample mentioned that they watch political programmes on TV (Car, 2010).

4
Trust in the preferred party was excluded from the final solution in order to get a better solution according to rel-
evant tests.
5
There were some important reasons from a theoretical point of view for the exclusion of trust in social and political
stakeholders from this analysis in order to eliminate more contingent and performance-based evaluations related to
social stakeholders (Moy et al., 2005; Newton & Norris, 1999), and to ensure that we are measuring general trust in
media and other institutions. These two models of exploratory factor analysis (one with social stakeholders included
and one with social stakeholders excluded from the analysis) were compared according to relevant tests (Determi-
nant, Kaiser-Meyer-Olkin Measure of Sampling Adequacy, Bartlett’s test of Sphericity, Residuals computed, Cron-
bach’s Alfa), and due to better results on all tests, social stakeholders were included in the final analysis and presented
here.

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Hierarchical multiple regression was also applied to test socio-demographic


variables (age and educational level) as predictors of each dimension of institu-
tional trust.

Results
When we take a closer look at the level of trust respondents (Table 5, An-
nexe) have in Croatian media compared with trust in other analysed social and
political institutions, the results of the study imply that the respondents are
sceptical towards all measured institutions (mean values from 2.5-3.5). Trust
in national media (2.78) and journalists (2.73), as well as trust in most of the
analysed institutions falls in this same category. Trust in media and journalists
is lower than trust in church (3.44), which is evaluated as the most trustworthy
institution, followed by trust in scientists, educational institutions, the Croa-
tian army, intellectuals and party leaders, but it is higher than trust in police,
top managers, civil sector institutions (NGOs and trade unions), international
institutions (global media and European Union), political parties and state in-
stitutions (preferred party, president and political parties in general).
Five independent factors (Varimax solution, Table 6) were extracted that
explained 47.36% of the variance (Determinant =.008, KMO=.876; Bartlett’s
test of sphericity: λ2=4746,707, df=253, p<.000). The first two factors each
accounted for approximately 11% of the explained variance. The third factor
accounted for approximately 10% of the variance, the forth for 9% and the
fifth for approximately 6%. The first dimension (Cronbach’s alpha=.719) of
institutional trust is related to trust in party and business elite (trust in the leader
of the party they voted for, trust in business elite, trust in political parties in gen-
eral, trust in government and parliament, trust in radio and weekly magazines).
The second dimension (Cronbach’s alfa=.616) of institutional trust is related
to trust in state institutions (police, army, government, parliament and televi-
sion). Church was excluded from this scale because when deleted, Cronbach’s
alpha was raised. The third dimension (Cronbach’s alfa=.707) of institutional
trust refers to trust in political and cultural elite (president, scientists, honoured
intellectuals, journalists and NGOs). The fourth dimension is related to trust in
the EU (Cronbach’s alfa=.617). Even though these dimensions comprise con-
ceptually different items (trust in the EU, trust in foreign media, trust in NGOs
and trade unions and trust in the educational system), the factor loadings show
that trust in the EU has the highest score in this dimension. The fifth dimen-

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Antonija Čuvalo Institutional trust in the Croatian post-socialist context

sion (Cronbach’s alfa=.580) is related to trust in media (daily newspapers, radio,


weekly magazines, internet and daily newspapers).
According to this final solution with the five independent sub-dimensions
of institutional trust, we cannot confirm the first hypothesis (H1) about trust
in media as independent from trust in political institutions. Consequently, the
second assumption (H2) about trust in media as an independent dimension
of institutional trust was not confirmed. In fact, trust in television is evalu-
ated with a similar logic as trust in state institutions (police, army, parliament,
government and church), while domestic media in general and journalists are
evaluated with a similar logic as the president, comprising the third dimension
(trust in political and cultural elite). This third dimension of institutional trust
(trust in political and cultural elite) seems the most similar to Dohring’s (1992)
oppositional factor, but in the Croatian case the institution of president is per-
ceived close to the cultural elite and civil sector (scientists, journalist, domestic
media and NGOs). It is important to note that in that period the president was
Stjepan Mesić, whose political orientation is closer to the opposition, while the
ruling party (parliament majority and prime minister) was HDZ, which repre-
sents the centre-right political option (Peruško, 2012).
This five-dimensional solution is not consistent with the models tested by
Cook and Gronke (2001) and differs from the analysis provided by Rimac
(2000), who extracted a one-dimensional structure of institutional trust in
Croatia. Despite differences between data presented in Rimac (2000) and our
data from 2009 analysed in this paper, we cannot confirm that trust in media is
independent from trust in political institutions. Nevertheless, results show that
after two decades of transition, political trust in Croatia is still not completely
independent of trust in media. According to Mishler and Rose (2001), this may
indicate that Croatian citizens still have difficulty making distinctions about
different institutions. Consequently, the second assumption (H2) about trust
in media as an independent dimension of institutional trust was not confirmed.
Our data showed that Croatian citizens rely mostly on television as a source
of information. 57% use television regularly, followed by radio (49.8%) and
internet (32.9%). Less than 30% (Table 1) of our sample read print media
regularly (newspapers, magazines and weekly magazines). At the same time,
they evaluated radio as the most trustworthy medium, followed by the inter-
net and television, while print media were evaluated as the least trustworthy.
The internet had the highest share of those who find this medium trustworthy
compared to other media. Magazines and newspapers represented the highest

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Institutional trust in the Croatian post-socialist context Antonija Čuvalo

share of those who distrust particular media, while radio and television had
the smallest share (Table 2, Annexe). A high level of trust in the internet can at
least in part be explained by the interactive nature of the medium and media
use (Čuvalo, 2011). Regarding the high level of trust in radio, a useful remark
is made by Croatian sociologists Gordan Črpić and Mirko J. Mataušič (1999)
who also discern the highest trust in (local) radio stations. They explained this
based on certain characteristics of Croatian local radio stations (higher share of
relevant and prompt local news, higher level of flexibility and familiarity with
their audiences).
Hierarchical multiple regression analysis was applied to determine the best
predictors of each of the tested dimensions (sub-scales) of institutional trust
(trust in political and business leaders, trust in state institutions, trust in cultural
and political elite, trust in the EU and trust in media). Our regression model
(backward) tested the impact of the frequency of consumption of television,
radio, daily newspapers, weekly magazines and internet on each dimension
(sub-scale) of institutional trust (Table 9). Regarding trust in party and business
elite, media usage (television, radio, internet, daily newspapers and weeklies)
explained 6% of the variance. Internet usage proved to have a negative effect
on trust in party and business elite, while consumption of radio and weekly
magazines has a positive effect on trust in media. TV and internet usage proved
to be the best predictors of trust in state institutions, explaining 7% of the vari-
ance. Frequent watching of TV had a positive effect on trust, while frequent
internet usage had negative effect. Trust in cultural and political elite was best
explained by the frequency of TV usage (6% of the variance explained by the
model). Media usage (TV and internet, both with a positive effect) proved also
to be a small but significant predictor of trust in the EU (3.8% of the vari-
ance explained by the model). Frequency of radio, internet, daily newspapers
and weekly magazine consumption explained 8.6% of the variance of trust in
media. Consumption of radio, newspapers and weekly magazines all have a
significant positive effect on trust in media, while frequency of radio listening
had the strongest (positive) effect.
The results did not confirm the third assumption (H3) about the positive
effect of the frequency of reading newspapers on trust and the negative effect
of the frequency of watching television. Quite the opposite, television viewing
had a positive effect on trust in each tested dimension of institutional trust
except on trust in media, while there was no evidence of the effect of reading
daily newspapers on trust. Internet usage seems more important than the regu-

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Antonija Čuvalo Institutional trust in the Croatian post-socialist context

lar reading of newspapers for institutional trust, but with a negative effect on
trust in state institutions and trust in the elite. Nevertheless, media usage was
confirmed as the best predictor of trust in institutions.
A closer look at the relationship between socio-demographic indicators
and scales of media use (Table 10) shows that women watch significantly
more television than men, yet this correlation is not strong. The relationship is
similar between the frequency of radio listening and economic position. Age,
educational level and economic position are all in significant correlation with
the frequency of usage of all print media. Older respondents read print media
more frequently than younger ones. The opposite situation is seen when inter-
net users are concerned. The socio-demographic profile of internet users reveals
strong indices of the digital divide in Croatian society. Even though gender is
the weakest determinant of internet usage (r=.-120; p>.05), the correlation is
significant. Apart from gender and age, internet usage is determined by educa-
tional level (r=.-395; p>.05) and economic position (r=.-395; p>.05).
Wealth (self-reported economic position) has a significantly positive corre-
lation to trust in media and a significantly negative correlation to trust in state
institutions (Table 8). At the same time, educational level has a negative effect
on trust in party, business, political and cultural elite, but it is not significant in
explaining trust in media and state institutions (Table 7). Age was confirmed as
a predictor of trust in party and political elite, in political and cultural elite and in
state institutions (Table 7). Older respondents were more trustful, but a higher
educational level had a negative effect on trust in major political, cultural and
business stakeholders. Regarding trust in media, age proved to be a small (1.6%
of the variance explained) but significant predictor of that respective dimension
with a positive effect on trust. Although the direction of their effect is opposite,
age and – to a lesser extent – educational level proved to be the predictors of
trust in party and business elite and trust in political and cultural elite. Contrary to
our fourth assumption, age and educational level proved to be significant pre-
dictors of trust. Age had a negative effect on trust only regarding trust in media,
while for all other dimensions it had a positive effect. Young and well-educated
people seem to be more critical towards the political system.

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Institutional trust in the Croatian post-socialist context Antonija Čuvalo

Conclusion
The first assumption on the multidimensionality of institutional trust was
confirmed by factor analysis, which discerned a five-dimensional structure of
institutional trust. The five dimensions of institutional trust are: trust in party
and business elite, trust in state institutions, trust in cultural elite, trust in the EU
and trust in media.
The results did not confirm the hypothesis on trust in media as an inde-
pendent dimension of institutional trust in Croatia (H2). If we compare results
from this study to previous studies, for example with the study of Croatian
theologian Stjepan Baloban and sociologist Ivan Rimac’s (1999) based on data
gathered in 1997 on a nationally representative sample, our data show a simi-
lar pattern, even though these studies did not measure the same institutions6
and did not use the same scale. Baloban and Rimac (1999), Rimac (2000)
and Šporer and Sekulić (2011) used a 4-point scale (1-distrust, 2-little trust
and 3-trust a lot, 4-very high trust), while within the ‘Trust in Media 2009’
project which provides the basis for this paper, a 5-point scale (explained above
in this section) was used. The main difference with regard to the level of trust
in institutions (taking into consideration the abovementioned methodological
and conceptual differences) is the better relative position of national media in
the 2009 measurement (Čuvalo, 2011) compared to the 1997 measurement
(Baloban & Rimac 1999). A similar trend was detected by Šporer and Sekulić
(2011) who analysed the relationship between citizens’ trust in Croatian in-
stitutions and corruption (2011) in two waves (the first was in 2004 and the
second was in 2010). According to these findings, trust in media in Croatia is
not declining (in relation to trust in other institutions). This is different from
the declining trends in Western societies (for example, Cook & Gronke, 2001).
The increase in trust in Croatian media can be interpreted as the evidence of
an improved performance of the media system at the end of 2000s compared
to the situation at the end of first decade of transition (1990s), when the media
were criticised due to a strong relationship with politics, especially with respect
to the ruling party (HDZ) (Rimac, 2000; Peruško et al., 2011).
Similar to the situation at the end of the 1990s (Mataušić & Rimac, 2000),
Croatian citizens still do not clearly differentiate the media as an independent

6
Baloban and Rimac (1999) used items for the evaluation of trust in different types of media (trust in local radio,
trust in Croatian Catholic Radio, trust in state radio, trust in television, trust in independent news magazines and
trust in daily newspapers). Rimac (2000) used only one media item, i.e. trust in print, while Šporer and Sekulić
(2011) asked respondents to evaluate trust in press and television.

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democratic institution. A more detailed analysis of trust in media and trust in


other political institutions reveals how the perception of television represents an
integral element of trust in state institutions together with trust in government,
parliament, police and army, while the perception of radio and weekly maga-
zines constitutes a dimension of trust in party and business elite. These results
discern a certain level of political parallelism, which – to Daniel C. Hallin and
Paolo Mancini (2004) – is a characteristic of Mediterranean or Polarised Plural-
ist media systems. According to Peruško (2012), Croatia fits well within this
respective model. Another explanation could be that citizens still have difficul-
ties differentiating between media and political institutions and stakeholders as
a legacy of an authoritarian past (Mishler & Rose, 2001).
Contrary to the expected outcome (H3), those who watch television more
express a higher level of trust in political institutions. The frequency of read-
ing newspapers was not confirmed as significant as regards institutional trust.
If we take into consideration the fact that in our case the perception of televi-
sion is an integral element of trust in political systems, the positive impact of
television use on trust is not inconsistent and unexpected. The frequency of
consumption of daily newspapers did not confirm to be a predictor of trust in
political institutions, which could at least in part be explained by the effect of
intermediary variables (such as age and education). Namely, newspaper readers
are more frequently older and educated respondents (Čuvalo, 2011), and these
two variables, as we show, work in opposite directions. Older respondents have
more trust in political institutions, while more educated respondents are more
critical. However, multiple regression shows that media use is a better predictor
of trust in all tested dimensions when compared to tested socio-demographic
indicators. This result discerns in part the importance of media for trust in
institutions.
Contrary to our fourth assumption (H4), age and educational level proved
to be significant predictors of trust. Age had a negative effect only regarding
trust in media, while for all other dimensions age had a positive effect. This is
similar to the situation in established democracies (Sztompka, 1999) and to the
results that Mishler and Rose (2001) analysed for post-communist countries.
This similarity could be explained by the effect of maturation and experience
(Sztompka, 1999). Another possible explanation could be that this similar ef-
fect has different causes. While in established democracies with a long history
of relatively effective democratic institutions trust grows with maturation (and
familiarity with the system), in new democracies, older generations evaluate the

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Institutional trust in the Croatian post-socialist context Antonija Čuvalo

current system as better than the previous (totalitarian or authoritarian) sys-


tems. At the same time, young and better educated respondents are more criti-
cal towards political systems. High educational level had a negative effect on
trust in party and business elite and trust in political and cultural elite, and no
significant effect on trust in other dimensions of institutional trust (media, EU,
state institutions). Wealth had a positive effect on trust in media and a negative
effect on trust in state institutions. The former relationship could be explained
by the fact that better educated respondents have more resources and consume
more diverse media (Čuvalo, 2011), and consequently have more knowledge
and experience as the basis for trust (Sztompka, 1999).
It is important to mention that all presented measures of correlation be-
tween respective variables are small, even though some of them are significant.
We could assume that the presented analysis and the instruments used as a
basis for the analysis did not include some already proven predictors of insti-
tutional trust such as values, political orientations, political efficacy, perception
of system’s performance, etc. Nevertheless, the results at least partly confirm
other studies dealing with issues of institutional trust in post-socialist societies
(Mishler & Rose, 2001; Rimac, 2000; Šporer & Sekulić, 2011), which discern
somewhat different patterns of trust than in established democracies.

160 CM : Communication Management Quarterly : Časopis za upravljanje komuniciranjem 26 (2013) 145–164 © 2013 CDC and author(s)
Antonija Čuvalo Institutional trust in the Croatian post-socialist context

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