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Despite everything, we still trust Auntie

Date:31 March 2008
Category:Comment & Analysis
Specialism:Social Research
Keywords:BBC, Broadcasting, Media, Radio, Trust, TV
(Click on keywords to find related News Items)

Trust in the BBC has widely been called into question in recent months, with scandals over a Blue Peter phone-in vote and the documentary about the Queen. Despite this, the UK public are most likely to trust the BBC out of a range of British institutions, much more than they trust the government — which is just as well, since TV and radio broadcasters are seen by far more as being influential than are the government.

The power of the media

Half of the public (50%) pick the BBC as one of their two most-trusted organisations, with only 7% naming them as one of the two they trust least. Individual BBC channels are also trusted to tell the truth by most of their audience, with at least four out of five regular watchers / listeners saying they trust each BBC TV and radio channel asked about either "a great deal" or at least "somewhat". Radio 4 is the most widely trusted by its audience, with 95% trusting it.

Trust in newspapers to tell the truth varies greatly, however: The Guardian (94%), Telegraph (93%) and The Times (89%) score almost as well as Radio 4 among their readers, while the Mail (67%) and Express (62%) are trusted by around two in three of their readers and the Mirror by a little over half (55%). But the Murdoch-owned 'red-tops', The Sun and News of the World, are trusted by only around three in ten of their readers (29% and 31% respectively).

The government is far less trusted than the BBC: two-thirds of people (65%) say they trust the government least or next least of the seven institutions. More generally, only 16% agree that "In general, I tend to trust politicians", while 83% disagree. The public give a variety of reasons for disagreeing — most commonly that they do not tell the truth (31%) or do not deliver on their promises (22%).

Trust in institutions

Yet many of the public are prepared to trust the government's advice on health and safety issues. Around three in four would trust the government's advice on smoking (77%), alcohol and drugs (72%) and on traffic speeding (76%). Trust tends to lessen for more contentious issues, for example, almost three in four (72%) would not trust the government's advice on the impact of immigration.

The fact that public trust is particularly low for the government and politicians is something that will concern MPs of all persuasions. Not only does this lack of trust bode ill for voter turnout; it has the potential to severely curtail moves to more effectively engage citizens in local political processes.

Ipsos MORI interviewed a representative quota sample of 1,070 adults aged 16+ in Great Britain and Northern Ireland by telephone on 3-6 January 2008. Data are weighted to the profile of the population.

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Graham Keilloh
Graham Keilloh

Deputy Head of Electoral Research