Faith in media has risen to 71 percent in China — the highest score of the 28 places around the world surveyed in market research firm Edelman’s annual study, and a six-point increase from a year ago.
The 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer Global Report polled over 33,000 respondents around the globe in late 2017, and found that China saw the most substantial gains of trust in its institutions — NGOs, business, government, and media — with a total increase of 27 points across the four categories. The U.S. suffered the greatest loss of trust, with a drop of 37 percentage points.
Globally, distrust of media was alarmingly high, with 22 of the 28 places surveyed showing less than 50 percent trust. The reputation of journalists, however, actually improved, while faith in search engines and social media platforms declined.
Baidu, China’s leading search engine, has become entangled in several scandals that have damaged public trust. One of the most notable cases was college student Wei Zexi’s death in April 2016, after he underwent an unsuccessful and unproven cancer treatment at a Beijing hospital that had advertised on the platform. After Wei’s death, authorities investigated Baidu and directed the company to reform how it presented paid advertisements among its search results.
In China, official scrutiny of online platforms has intensified in recent years. In September 2013, courts clarified that defamation on social media could be penalized by up to three years’ imprisonment if a post was viewed more than 5,000 times or forwarded more than 500 times.
Nevertheless, the Edelman report found that in China, trust was high for both “journalism” — defined as both traditional and online-only media — at 77 percent, and for “platforms” — social media and search engines” — at 68 percent.
Authorities and platforms have collaborated to combat the spread of “fake news” on Chinese social media. Shanghai police investigated 390 cases relating to online rumors last year, and internet giant Tencent — which operates the country’s biggest social network, WeChat — reported that it had quashed over 500 million rumors on its messaging platform.
In some cases, however, sweeps to clean up false, violent, or obscene content bleed into political campaigns. News aggregator Jinri Toutiao has already purged 1,413 accounts in 2018, and the company recently announced that it would recruit content moderators for its platform — ideally Party members.
Though professional journalism enjoyed a resurgence of credibility according to the Edelman survey, respondents still criticized news organizations for focusing more on building audiences than on reporting, sacrificing accuracy for scoops, and supporting an ideology over informing the public.
“Silence,” company CEO Richard Edelman said in the report, “is a tax on the truth.”