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What Do Citizens Trust in the Nordics? Minna Horowitz of DECA presented findings on the Nordic audience survey at Nordic Democracy Day

Minna Horowitz at Nordic Democracy Day.

Hanaholmen’s annual Nordic Democracy Day focused on the current challenges concerning freedom of expression and democracy. The presenters included the editors-in-chief of four large Nordic newspapers and the Chair of the Nordic think tank for tech and democracy.  DECA’s representative Minna Horowitz reported on the Nordic audience survey, a study conducted together with the NORDIS media observatory and co-funded by the C.V. Åkerlund Media Foundation

The study focuses on Nordic audiences’ experiences of media trust and experiences of disinformation based on nationwide representative surveys in Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden in May-June 2023. Here are some key findings:

Legacy media matters

The respondents in each researched country see the media as a significant societal force, influencing public opinion and political decision-making. Here, it is important to note that the respondents do not necessarily make a distinction between legacy and social media generally assessing its impact. When it comes to the role that the media should have in society, the respondents refer to legacy outlets when noting that reporting on current events, fact-checking, and analyzing and commenting on current issues are the most central tasks of the media.

The distinction between legacy and social media becomes evident when examining people’s experiences and views on trust. While digitalization has meant that news consumption goes online and mobile, legacy media are the key news sources in all the researched countries. It is notable that public service media organizations fare the highest in audiences’ trust, reflecting the strong tradition of public broadcasting in the Nordic media welfare state model and practice. Even so, the role of one’s family and friends plays, in practice, an equally important role in the experiences of trust.  

Duality of trust and critical views

There is an interesting duality in the respondents’ views: On one hand, legacy media are trusted, yet critically viewed in terms of how different outside factors influence media content and other functions. One explanation might be the role of media literacy education, prominent in the Nordic countries, that highlights the importance of critical examination of underlying motivations and contexts of media contents. This awareness may also be connected to the trusted role of legacy media itself, in that audiences set high expectations for the national legacy news and journalism sources.

Disinformation: a Nordic everyday problem

Experiences of not being able to verify the veracity of content have become common in all the researched countries. Half of the respondents in every NORDIS country indicate that they have personally encountered false legacy media or online content in the past month, to some extent, often, or very often. While Facebook is the most common platform for countering disinformation, it is notable that disinformation is seen to also appear in legacy media. This is yet another interesting contrast to the high level of trust in legacy media and perhaps an indicator of the awareness of the possibility of disinformation, as well as a sign of a degree of polarization and fragmentation of media consumption. 

Based on the survey, the audiences' experiences of media, trust, and disinformation in the four countries are almost identical. One explanation is the legacy Nordic Media Welfare State model and its principles of a mixed media system with consensus on media policies, editorial freedom, and universal access to media. As has been argued elsewhere, this model may no longer exist, and phenomena partly connected to digitalisation and platformisation – such as a rapid increase in information disorders, diminishing trust in knowledge institutions, political polarization, and fragmentation of news consumption habits – could also be interpreted to have some manifestations in the survey results. 

The first report of the study can be found here.

The entire event can be viewed here.


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