3 min read.Updated: 20 Oct 2020, 08:21 AM ISTTauseef Shahidi
During the pandemic, those who were more anxious about their health and financial situation were more likely to have increased their news consumption
For many during the lockdown, newspapers and TV anchors were the go-to source for coronavirus-related updates. News consumption indeed rose at that time, even more so in India, a global survey has found. This, even though Indians expressed less trust in the media than in public officials during the lockdown months.
As many as 76% respondents in India said they had watched or read more news of late than they did earlier, the survey by data research firm YouGov found. This was the highest, followed by Japan, with 61%.
YouGov ran its Covid-19 Consumer Monitor in 26 countries during the peak pandemic months. Around 220,000 respondents were asked about their news habits in the two weeks prior to the survey. In India, 8,218 participants from 200 cities and towns were interviewed in May and June.
Crisis situations such as terrorist attacks or epidemics, in general, induce the public to watch more news, past research has shown.
The uncertainty makes people anxious and they turn to the news to get rid of negativity.
The YouGov data also reveals that those who held a negative view of the coronavirus situation, in India as well as the world, were more likely to increase their news intake than those who believed the situation was getting better.
Even on aspects of personal life, those who were more worried about the future were more likely to increase their news consumption, the survey found.
For instance, in India, 59% of the respondents said they were concerned about their personal health due to the pandemic, and 73% were worried about their friends and family. Among the set of people who were worried about sickness or death coming to themselves or their loved ones, four-fifths watched or read more news during the pandemic.
Among those who were not worried, this figure was 74%.
The sense of worry extended to the societal level as well. Out of the 6,149 respondents who said they were worried about a long-lasting negative impact of coronavirus on the society, 80% increased their news consumption. This was 68% among those who did not report such worry.
The pandemic brought economic woes along with a public health crisis. India recorded a historic contraction of 23.9% in its GDP in the June-ended quarter. This was bound to have an adverse impact on the economic outlook of people. Around 60% respondents from India felt the Indian economy would still be in a depression or recession by mid-year 2021.
The bleaker outlook of the economy seems to be coming from personal experience, and not just poor GDP numbers. Most Indian respondents said their household financial situation had worsened in the month prior to the day they were interviewed. Further, 82% were worried that going forward, their finances would be severely impacted, while 68% feared losing their job. Such people were more likely to have increased their news intake than those who were not worried about personal finances or job loss.
All said, the rise in news intake due to increased health or economic worry does not mean people trust the media as much. Among government, health professionals, and the media, public trust during the pandemic was the lowest in the media in India. This was true for all major countries except the United States and Japan, where the lowest trust level was reserved for the government.
Another survey, by IANS and CVoter in September and October, suggested that low trust in the media in India might not be across news sources. Newspapers seem to enjoy more public trust than TV news.
Nearly two in three respondents still consider newspapers as the most important source of news, and 74% said they do not rely on TV news channels for ‘real’ news. The survey covered more than 5,000 respondents across India.
However, there appears to be a link between higher news consumption and more awareness about the coronavirus. As many as 82% of those who increased news intake felt they knew enough about what they should do if they suspected being infected, as opposed to 70% among those who reduced or made no change to their news consumption.
Consumers are possibly choosing to get the relevant or useful news from the platforms they trust more. The Reuters Institute’s Digital News Report 2020 showed that, globally, more people (46%) trust the news they use than they trust news overall (38%).
During a pandemic, the media could be a source of unbiased, authentic, and potentially life-saving information. No doubt, people turned to the media more than they did earlier. But trust is crucial for that information to help, and the media may have some work to do there.