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Media consumers alive to threat of fake news

Published on October 25, 2021

The Covid-19 pandemic has made consumers of media more sensitive to the dangers of false or misleading information, according to a survey of the Swiss media landscape.

The latest edition of the annual Yearbook Quality of the Media by the fög research institute at the University of Zurich found that demand for quality journalism has increased because of the pandemic.

Analysing some 5,400 responses to two surveys of media consumers, the report found that almost half of the respondents saw fake news as a serious problem.

Social media was identified by 61.7% of people as a source of disinformation, followed by alternative media (39%), online video channels (36%) and messenger apps (27.7%).

By contrast, professional media has a better reputation, with only 13.8% of respondents having issues with these channels – while 15.8% expressed concern with official state information.

“Our study makes it clear that an intact system of professional news media, including public media, is absolutely essential for Swiss society’s resilience to disinformation,” the report states.

While the pandemic appears to have cemented trust in professional journalism compared to other sources of information, it has also threatened the survival of some media companies by reducing advertising income.

“The intensification of the economic crisis in journalism is an unfavorable development,” the report’s authors’ state. “Journalism plays an extremely important role for society in times of crisis. It contributes to an informed population and limits the spread of disinformation.”

The media did a better job in some respects during the second wave of the pandemic by publishing a greater selection of official statistics, researchers note. But considering that Covid-19 touches all levels of society, journalists could still do a better job at representing the views and opinions of a more diverse range of people.

Women could also be better represented by the media across all subjects, the report concludes. By analysing 18,695 articles from 60 media outlets, the “sobering” conclusion is that women remain “severely under-represented”.

SWI swissinfo.ch was included in the Yearbook Quality of the Media for the first time, achieving a comparatively credible quality rating of 7.2.