Pandemic Pushes Public Mistrust in the Media

Trust in the media is waning in the wake of the pandemic, with interest in the news falling sharply to 37 percent among Southeast Asians, according to the head of a research centre
Journalists work at media center at Sokha Hotel Phnom Penh, August 5, 2022. Kiripost/Siv Channa
Journalists work at media center at Sokha Hotel Phnom Penh, August 5, 2022. Kiripost/Siv Channa

The pandemic has thrown additional hurdles to the media landscape as there is a quiet resignation of consuming news in the region, the head of a research centre said on Thursday, claiming people find news troublesome, problematic, and biased.

James Gomez, Executive Director of Asia Centre based in Thailand and Malaysia, said at the First National Conference on Media Development in Cambodia that Covid-19 has created huge issues for media organizations globally, with trust in the news falling to 41 percent.

Interest in the news has fallen sharply to 51 percent worldwide. This plummets to 37 percent among Southeast Asians, he said, adding that numbers for TV and print are in decline.

“What is most serious is, you know we heard about the quiet resignation of Covid? People not wanting to work. I also feel that there is a quiet resignation from the consumption of news. People are not interested in consuming news anymore, they find news troublesome, problematic, and very biased,” Gomez said at a conference attended by hundreds of journalists and officials at Sokha Hotel in Phnom Penh.

“We are not only dealing with the issue of trust, but we are also dealing with the quiet resignation against the consumption of media. I think that's the bigger problem,” he added.

With regard to regaining trust, he presented examples of regional media that saw revenue drop and rebranded. Some even received public funding.

As part of restoring trust, these institutions have constituted ethics and press councils, some are state sponsored and some are independent, in addition to strengthening quality reporting, fact checking, media literacy programs and training.

He said he has seen two types of funding across the region to try to promote journalism as a public good. These are private and public funding.

“What is important is the transparency of the funding mechanism, who’s involved, and whoever is funding should stay away from the involvement of editorial decisions,” Gomez said.

In Cambodia, Facebook and Telegram are the main sources of information, however, only 30 percent of Cambodians have basic knowledge on media literacy, Gomez said.

UNESCO Representative to Cambodia, Sardar Umar Alam, said that growing numbers of media outlets have been forced to cut down on staff or close their doors permanently, changing the media landscape. For example, Google and Meta, now receive approximately half of all global digital advertising spending.

“When media outlets face existential threats due to the lack of financial sustainability, they are more vulnerable to be captured by political and commercial interests. It is critical to provide financial incentives and investment for a sustainable media development in Cambodia,” Umar Alam said.

“It is a shared responsibility for all to make sure that journalists and media professionals are compensated fairly without fear of being underpaid or unemployed.”

Speaking at the conference, Information Minister Khieu Kanharith urged journalists to adhere to ethics and professionalism, without violating the rights of others and distorting the facts.

In addition, he said journalists must report accurate information and must not act as agents who produce and disseminate false information that could cause divisions, hatred, resentment, discrimination and social hostility.