Can You Trust China’s Media?

Can You Trust China’s Media?

Can you trust China’s media or is the question just a joke? We’ve been led to believe that China’s media is just ‘propaganda’ (and ours is the truth) but 80 percent of Chinese trust their media, according to surveys carried out over decades. Chinese media are a little boring because it doesn’t go in for sensationalism and don’t look as sexy as Fox News but, according to the Chinese, it’s 100 percent more reliable according to Edelman’s Trust Barometer China has the highest trust level of any national government. Personally, I’ll happily trade sensationalism and glitz for accuracy any day.

US Trust in Government, Media

US Trust in Government, Media

The 2016 Edelman Trust Barometer reveals the largest ever trust gap (12 points) between the informed public and mass population, driven by income inequality and divergent expectations of the future. While trust levels among informed publics are the highest ever in 16 years, trust is below 50 percent for the mass population in over sixty percent of the countries surveyed, having barely moved since the Great Recession. The trust disparity has widened and is now at double digit levels in more than half of the countries surveyed. The U.S. presents the largest divide at nearly 20 points followed by the UK (17 points), France (16 points) and India (16 points).“We are now observing the inequality of trust around the world,” said Richard Edelman, president and CEO of Edelman. “This brings a number of potential consequences including the rise of populist politicians, the blocking of innovation and the onset of protectionism and nativism.” More..

According to a recent World Values Survey, 96 percent of Chinese expressed confidence in their government, compared to only 37 percent of Americans. Likewise, 83 percent of Chinese thought their country is run for all the people, rather than for a few big interest groups, whereas only 36.7 percent of Americans thought the same. [Read the Edelman report and weep]:

Incidentally, in 2008, Reporters without Borders ranked Singapore as 144th out of 173 surveyed countries in terms of freedom of the press – yet A recent Gallup poll found that 69% of Singaporeans trusted their media.

And remember that the Chinese are smarter than us (as Henry Kissinger ruefully observed). How much to we trust our own media?  Well, here are some examples from the UK’s wonderful BBC and the USA.

Under the Guardian headline, Russia Today’s interview on immigrants detention centres in UK faces inquiry we find that it is the sixth ongoing investigation into RT and the third to relate to its coverage of events in Ukraine. Gosh ! Sounds bad. But, reading from EU’s own laws (Relevant legislation includes, in particular, sections 319(2)(c) and (d), 319(8) and section 320 of the Communications Act 2003, and Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.) should tell us about their “impartiality” from the start.

This section of the Code does not apply to BBC services funded by the licence fee, which are regulated on these matters by the BBC Trust. Ah yes, so the law applies to “foreign media” but not to BBC, which naturally is regulated by its OWN RULES. Foreign media must be “duly impartial”, but BBC is on a different set of rules. OK then, so, the rule of “impartiality” starts out by being partial to BBC?? Rather paradoxical.


Prior to 2004, Americans placed more trust in mass media than they do now, with slim majorities saying they had a “great deal” or “fair amount” of trust. But over the course of former President George W. Bush’s re-election season, the level of trust fell significantly, from 54% in 2003 to 44% in 2004. Although trust levels rebounded to 50% in 2005, they have failed to reach a full majority since. (Gallup Polls). Now for some research:

China-Asia Focus

It may be surprising that Chinese citizens have higher trust in the central government than in local governments whereas the reverse pattern is found in the U.S. I argue that the Internet technologies contribute to the trust-building mechanism that has elevated the public trust in Chinese central government compared to the local ones. Through public opinion monitoring and guiding, post-totalitarian authoritarian regimes like China can exercise the “strength” of “soft disciplines” to gain trust.

According to a recent Gallup poll, the US trust in government has drastically declined, reaching at or near record lows this year in 2014. When it comes to the trust in different levels of government, U.S. citizens have more trust in local governments than in state governments. The comparison between the state governments and the executive branch of federal government may vary depending on the state, while the perceived wisdom seems to remain that U.S. citizens are “are more trustful of governments and politicians who are close to the people, while distrusting far-off elites”. This may explain why the trust percentage number in the executive branch of the federal government in 2014 is 43% whereas a similar indicator by Gallup for state governments in 2013 is on average higher at 58%. Still, the overall trend is that both state and federal governments are losing public trust in the U.S.

In China, the opposite patterns appear to be true. The overall public trust in governments is reported to be rising, according to the Annual Report on Social Mentality of China (2014) and the Report of Social Development in China (2013) by Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Although according to 2012 and 2014 Edelman Trust Barometer results respectively, the Chinese trust in governments declined from 88% in 2011 to 75% in 2012, from 81% in 2013 to 76% in 2014, China’s trust level has been higher when compared to other countries. For instance, the same 2014 Edelman Trust Barometer results indicate the trust in the U.S. governments declined from 53% to 37%. More..


Internet users in South Korea have shifted their trust in the media toward digital—and away from traditional. But in nearby China, the same researcher found trust in traditional holding strong. According to Edelman, more than three-quarters of internet users in China trust traditional media for news and information as of this year, up from 70% in 2015 but generally in line with trust levels from earlier years.

Sources that Internet Users in China Trust for News and Information, 2012-2016 (% of respondents)

Digital media did not necessarily fare poorly in comparison: Search engines had about the same trust levels as traditional media over the past several years. Online-only media was slightly behind, followed by social. More..

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