Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Americans Love News (Though Putin Does Not)


A recent report,, from Oxford University and Reuters on the state of public confidence in journalism in six developed nations rates the public in the USA as having an especially low (and declining) trust in media as a source of valid information. 

Lacking an imperial overlord to manage national information transmission, the USA has always had a highly localised journalistic landscape. As Indian land became colonies, then, with westward expansion post-independence, territories and eventually states, news reporting was very much a regional matter. When radio arrived there were no central government networks created from the get-go like the CBC, BBC, ABC, JBC and so on throughout the British Empire. US radio was and has remained largely regional. While national radio and TV networks like NPR, PBS, NBC and Fox eventually developed there, much of the news content was and still is locally focused. In recent times a few quality US newspapers (NY Times, Washington Post) have developed a national following, but content about the USA emphasizes its source region (e.g. the NYT I get to read is the Great Lakes version).

Thus I find the Reuters report inadequate as it features centralized and geographically small nations such as the UK and Finland alongside vast and decentralized media environments like Brazil and the USA. Until the widespread  availability of digital media only a generation or so ago, populations across a large federal nation without national (and usually government supported) broadcast media were treated to greatly varying versions of what constituted news. This seems to have remained so even though other regions’ news is now accessible digitally. This may well be because many people in a country of large and varied territories don’t often visit or even care much about what distant regions think of as important. In the USA and it seems Brazil that has translated in recent years to a distrust of information deriving from afar, especially where it is seen as emanating from an elite centre. Even here in Canada where both the French and English media tell much the same story across the land, some communities, especially in Alberta and Quebec, distrust news they see as deriving from Ottawa-based outlets.

I know the USA well, having lived next to it or, for a few years, in it and having worked there frequently for over 50 years. Americans have been and still are are voracious consumers of news. They just don’t believe what doesn’t emanate from their own ‘tribe’. The creation of online media has massively enhanced the opportunities for extremists of all stripes to extend the boundaries of what constitutes broadcast news and opinion. Paradoxically (?) this has led to a widespread distrust of media in general in the democracies, especially in the USA. It's just too bad that isn't also true of today's Russians! But of course full control of information is a seminal requirement for any lasting autocracy.


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