The bad news for Blair's brigade

An Independent poll finds that the public trusts the press more than their politicians
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The Independent Online

It's not what many MPs want to hear but the public believes that they - the politicians - are more culpable than the media when it comes to the breakdown of trust in the political process.

It's not what many MPs want to hear but the public believes that they - the politicians - are more culpable than the media when it comes to the breakdown of trust in the political process.

Furthermore, young people and Labour voters think that the accuracy of news reporting in the media has improved in recent years.

These are among the findings of an NOP poll conducted for The Independent last week, showing that journalists, though still widely distrusted, may not be quite beyond the pale after all. Pollsters asked 1,001 people whether the media or politicians were more to blame for a decline in trust in "the whole political process". Among people of all ages, 55 per cent thought that the breakdown in trust was "mainly" due to the politicians, a figure that rose to 60 per cent among Conservative and Liberal Democrat voters.

There was nevertheless considerable evidence of unease about political reporting, with 20 per cent of respondents saying that the media was more responsible for political apathy than the politicians, and a further 21 per cent saying that both were equally at fault.

The findings may come as a surprise to some politicians. A separate survey of 101 MPs, conducted by CommunicateResearch ( see pp 10-11), found that almost all (87 per cent) of MPs held the media responsible for "declining levels of trust in the political process". Clive Soley, a Labour MP who has long campaigned on media standards, says he thinks that the findings are influenced by the public unease over Government policy on Iraq. He argues, however, that the public is more sympathetic towards named individual MPs and that it is the phrase "politicians" that tends to inspire a negative response.

Journalists will be heartened to hear that attempts to improve standards in reporting are beginning to be recognised. NOP asked the sample whether "the accuracy of news reporting in the media over recent years has improved, remained about the same or worsened". The response among the public at large was neutral, with 42 per cent saying that standards had remained the same and 27 per cent believing they had fallen, compared with 25 per cent who said that they had improved. But among young people the results were different. NOP recorded that 34 per cent of 18-34 year olds thought that levels of accuracy in news reports had improved and 40 per cent said they were the same - with only 19 per cent opining that standards were in decline.

Labour voters were similarly positive, with 32 per cent saying that reporting accuracy had become better, as opposed to 22 per cent who thought it had deteriorated. This optimism was shared by C2 and DE classes but noticeably not by ABs, among whom only 15 per cent thought accuracy levels had improved, with 33 per cent saying they were worse than before.

Soley acknowledges that British journalism has taken steps to clean up its act. "I would agree with the positive findings. I think there has been an improvement in the last few years, although nowhere near as much as I would like," he says. Although Soley has reservations about the effectiveness of the Press Complaints Commission, he feels that newspaper editors are trying harder to improve standards.

His views are not shared by Chris Bryant MP, a member of the House of Commons' Culture, Media and Sport Committee, who says he has not noticed any improvements. He argues that public trust of the broadcast media is much higher than that of the press.

The NOP poll found that, in spite of the furore that surrounded its publication last January, the Hutton report had made little impact on the way the public regards news on the BBC. The pollsters asked: "In the dispute between the Government and the BBC, the Hutton report made some criticisms of the BBC. Has the controversy made you trust the BBC's journalism more or less or has it made no difference?" The overwhelming majority (78 per cent) said that the report had made "no difference" to the way they viewed the corporation's journalism. An equal proportion (9 per cent) said the report had made them either less or more trusting of the BBC's news output.

Some commentators, including senior BBC executives, believe that the Hutton episode has in fact bolstered confidence in the corporation, as people have become more conscious of how much they value the institution and its independence. Such a view was most apparent among the AB social grouping and among Conservative voters. NOP found that 14 per cent of ABs were more trusting of BBC news post-Hutton, and that 15 per cent of Tory voters took the same position.

The poll also found that the public still gets the vast majority of its news intake from television and newspapers. Fifty-five per cent of respondents cited the television as their chief source, with 26 per cent preferring newspapers and 14 per cent radio. The internet was the chief news source for only 4 per cent of people questioned, rising to 6 per cent among the 18-34 age group.