Saturday, 15 November 2008

Readers think tabloids are cynical and untrustworthy shock.

Martin Kettle draws attention to some rather unflattering survey findings:
"The survey asked the public how much they trusted 17 different professions to tell the truth. Top of the list as usual were family doctors, trusted by 94% of the public, followed by headteachers (83%) and judges (82%). Ministers and MPs indeed trailed far behind, trusted by 27% and 26% respectively - as the red-tops were quick to point out. At the very back of the line, though, came another group, tabloid journalists, who were trusted to tell the truth by a miserable 10% of the population. Yet this particular finding has not been published in any newspaper until now.

Even this, though, only scratches the surface of what this striking survey revealed about public attitudes to the media in general and to the tabloids in particular. Tabloid readers, the survey found, are more likely than the readers of broadsheet papers or of no newspapers at all to believe that standards of conduct in public life are low, are getting worse, and to think that the relevant authorities are not upholding the right rules. Given their exposure to the sort of stories quoted above, perhaps this is not exactly surprising.

What may surprise, though, is the scepticism of readers towards tabloids. The survey asked their opinion of the papers. Do they "do a good job of keeping politicians accountable?" Yes, said 43%. What about "help the public to learn about what is happening in politics?" Not so sure. This time only 31% of readers thought they did.

Then the figures become really dire. "Generally fair in their representation of politicians?" Only 13% thought that applied to the tabloids. "Look for any excuse to tarnish the name of politicians?" A massive 90% agreed with that one. "Focus on negative stories about politics and politicians?" Almost the same, 87%. And finally, "more interested in getting a story than telling the truth?" This time an overwhelming 82% of tabloid readers concurred."

This is in line with what we've argued here from the beginning: the readership of tabloids, including the Sun's, is both far more intelligent than many give them credit for and also thinks a lot of what they get up to is damaging to politics as a whole. The question this then poses is why do so many still then buy the tabloids when they dislike much of what they do? Is it masochism? Is it because they've always bought them, or their parents did? Is it for what else they produce, as Paul Dacre suggests, on entertainment and being entertaining? Or did those polled lie to the interviewers?

Whatever the answer is, tabloid editors ought to be far less confident and cocky than they are. For all their bravado about giving their readers want they want, this overwhelming shows that on politics are least, that is exactly what they are doing. All the more reason for them to be held to a far higher standard of accountability than they currently are.

(From an extended post which also goes into the reaction to the Baby P case.)


jimlad said...

Take Page 3 out of the sun and it's readership would half overnight.

asquith said...

Why don't they stop reading & buying it then? Like "moderate" religionists, they're just encouraging this shite by taking part.

Pod said...

The people I know who read the sun, when asked why, tend to respond with "It has a really good sport section".

Page 3? Seriously? In this day and age? I can get better and dirtier online.