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Public remains split over UK media Covid-19 coverage

Posted on: July 15, 2020 by Ian Murray

The UK public remains split on whether the media has been balanced in reporting the Covid-19 crisis, the latest report from the Reuters Institute reveals.

The report, the seventh since the crisis began, states that perception of news media coverage of the government is largely unchanged since April. 

“One third (33%) say they feel the coverage has not been critical enough, 28% say they feel the news media have covered the government response fairly, and 26% feel the coverage has been too critical,” says the report.

“Perception of news coverage is very polarised along political lines. Among those on the left, 64% say that the news media have not been critical enough of the government’s response, whereas among those on the right, 67% say the news media have been too critical.

“Levels of public concern over different possible sources of false or misleading information about coronavirus are largely stable. But the share of people who say they are very or extremely concerned over false or misleading coronavirus information from the government has grown to 39%, up 7 percentage points since April. By now, more people in the UK say they are very or extremely concerned about false or misleading information about coronavirus from the government (39%) than say they have used the government as a source of information about coronavirus (31%).

“Concern over possible misinformation from the government is polarised along political lines. While one-in-five (20%) on the right say they are very or extremely concerned about false or misleading information about coronavirus from the UK government, the figure rises to six-in-ten (62%) on the left. The difference between right and left was 29 percentage points in April, but has grown to 42 percentage points in July.”

This is the seventh in a series of ten factsheets based on an ongoing online panel survey of a representative sample of the UK population. The survey was designed by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford to collect data on how people navigate news and information during the coronavirus pandemic and was fielded by YouGov. 

Even as the UK begins to ease lockdown restrictions and gradually reopen, a majority (57%) of the UK public say they think the UK government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic has been worse than most other developed countries. Thirty per cent say the response has been about the same, 8% that it has been better. This is a markedly more pessimistic assessment than when Reuters asked the same questions in April. Ten weeks ago, 46% said the response was worse, 36% about the same, and 12% better.

A separate report from Reuters Institute looks at volume and patterns of toxicity in social media conversations during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The report assesses the volume and patterns of toxic conversations on social media during the crisis. It specifically analyses worldwide conversations on Twitter targeting the World Health Organization (WHO). The report defines toxicity as ‘a rude, disrespectful, or unreasonable comment that is likely to make people leave a discussion.’

The report concludes: “Although our analysis identifies important peaks of toxic conversations around COVID-19 and the WHO, the majority of messages during the period studied were not toxic, even those including very abusive hashtags. 

“Future research will have to determine whether this level of toxicity had any effect on public opinion and examine the causes of this incivility. 

“With the evidence at hand, we can safely confirm that the toxicity patterns we identify are correlated with the increasing polarisation in the political and media sphere around the role of the WHO in the COVID-19 crisis. “