Consumer trust in news remains high, study shows


Reuters has published its annual Digital News Report, which shows that in an era of accusations of ‘fake news’ the majority of people in Flanders continue to trust what they see and hear in the media

VRT most popular brand

Trust in the media in Belgium remains relatively high compared to other countries, according to the annual Digital News Report by Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism. The annual survey looks at consumer habits and attitudes in 38 countries around the world including Australia, Norway and Brazil.

In February, 2,075 people responded to the survey in Belgium. “In general, trust in traditional news brands, including the public broadcaster, is high in Flanders,” said Ike Picone, a lecturer in media and journalism at the Free University of Brussels (VUB) who contributed to the report.

“Compared to other countries, and contrary to some beliefs,” he continued, “there is also very little left-right polarisation in terms of trust. People who identify more as right-wing have less trust in Flemish news brands than people who identify as left-wing, but there is not a huge difference.”

In general, trust in traditional news brands, including the public broadcaster, is high in Flanders

- Ike Picone

There are, however, important differences according to age and education levels. When asked to indicate their level of trust in most news, most of the time, 61% of Flemish people aged over 35 said they trusted the news, compared to 38% of those under 35.

In almost every category, respondents from Flanders and Wallonia gave broadly similar responses about the media landscape in their region.

Another notable finding from the report is that trust in news consumed via social media is lower, including among younger users. Despite this, one in five respondents under the age of 35 says social media is their main source of news.

No to Flemish Netflix

In Flanders, public broadcaster VRT is the most popular TV, radio or print source of news, ahead of VTM. Het Laatste Nieuws and Het Nieuwsblad are the most-read newspapers both in print and online, though both received relatively low scores for perceived reliability.

Meanwhile, 11% of people in Flanders pay for an online news subscription. The report states that readership for news brands has remained stable over the past four years, in terms of combined print and digital reach, but print is losing ground year after year.

Television is now also seeing a slight decline. This aligns with the findings of the latest annual Digimeter survey, carried out by Leuven tech research organisation Imec, which suggests that daily live TV viewership in Flanders was just 48% in 2018, down from 60% in 2015.

Criticism of the media must be substantively grounded and civilised, without damaging the personal integrity of a journalist

- Flemish Association of Journalists

A study commissioned by Flemish media minister Sven Gatz last year suggesting that broadcasters, distributors and media producers join forces to create a “Flemish Netflix” was met with mixed feelings; Gatz has since acknowledged such a system would be unlikely to work in practice.

Meanwhile, with many politicians and citizens adopting a harsher tone towards journalists, the Flemish Association of Journalists set up a complaints office earlier this year to support members who are subject to verbal and physical harassment.

“There must be criticism of the media, and it has always been there,” the union said on launching the hotline. “As a professional association of journalists, we believe more than ever in free yet responsible journalism. But media criticism must be substantively grounded and civilised, without damaging the personal integrity of a journalist. It is exactly on this point that things are evolving negatively.”

Photo: Belga/Eric Lalmand