Trust in news media in Singapore “increased significantly” during COVID-19 pandemic: Digital News Report 2021

Trust in news media in Singapore has “increased significantly” during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to findings by the Digital News Report 2021, released on Wednesday (23 June).

The 10th edition of the report, published by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism based on a YouGov survey of over 92,000 online news consumers in 46 markets, studied digital news consumption during the COVID-19 pandemic.

It also examined common issues in digital news such trust and misinformation, paid online business models, and fairness in news coverage.

Singapore is included in the list of countries in the Asia-Pacific region, among others such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, Australia, and India.

According to Edson C. Tandoc Jr from the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information, Nanyang Technological University, public trust in the news media in Singapore has “increased significantly” in a year marked by the COVID-19 pandemic, with mainstream media  such as CNA and The Straits Times ranked highest at 79 per cent and 77 per cent respectively.

Source: Digital News Report 2021 / Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism

The landmark general election in July last year, which saw a smaller overall share of the ruling People’s Action Party’s vote share despite still securing a supermajority, may have also contributed to the increased reliance on news media in Singapore during the same period, he added.

“A combination of the elections and the pandemic may help explain the increase in news media trust – which is up by nine percentage points – as residents found themselves relying on the news media for important and accurate information, amid the flurry of fake news online,” Associate Professor Tandoc Jr posited.

The implementation of the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) via the issuing of correction orders was also significant in influencing news trust in Singapore during the pandemic, particularly in relation to COVID-19 related claims and those pertaining to the election last year.

“Some of the orders targeted posts by opposition parties during the campaign, while others targeted COVID-19 related claims, such as one posted by the States Times Review (STR) on Facebook claiming that COVID-19 spread in schools in May 2020,” Associate Professor Tandoc Jr wrote.

Online means, including social media, appear to be an overwhelmingly popular source of news for respondents in Singapore, with 83 per cent of respondents turning to the Internet for their news this year.

However, this was a two per cent decline from the percentage recorded in 2017.

Social media on its own, while the second most accessed medium of news throughout 2017-2021 in the country, recorded a four per cent decline from 61 per cent in 2017 to 57 per cent this year.

TV was ranked third among the preferred news sources, showing a 10 per cent decline from 57 per cent in 2017 to 47 per cent in 2021.

Print media emerged as the least popular source of news in the city-state, showing the most significant drop from 53 per cent in 2017 to 27 per cent in 2021.

Source: Digital News Report 2021 / Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism

In terms of weekly reach, both offline and online, CNA tops the list in terms of popularity, with 39 per cent of respondents accessing news from CNA on a weekly basis.

38 per cent obtain their news from The Straits Times on a weekly basis.

Mediacorp’s Channel 5 attracts 27 per cent of respondents weekly, while Channel 8’s newscasts gain a following from 25 per cent of respondents every week.

CNA’s website was also the most used digital brand at 48 per cent, followed by the online-only Mothership.sg at 42 per cent — the latter of which “is now just ahead” of ST’s website.

However, Associate Professor Tandoc Jr found that while Mothership has “climbed over the years to be the second most used news website in Singapore, it ranks significantly lower in brand trust”.

Source: Digital News Report 2021 / Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism

In terms of sharing news materials on social media, WhatsApp and Facebook top the list at 40 per cent. YouTube came in third at 25 per cent, followed by Telegram at 14 per cent.

Instagram and Twitter were ranked the least popular platforms through which news is shared at 13 per cent and 7 per cent respectively.

Source: Digital News Report 2021 / Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism

Due to their portability and ease of access, mobile phones remain the most popular devices on which news is accessed in Singapore, showing an increase from 72 per cent in 2017 to 80 per cent in 2021.

This is followed by laptops, which show a decline from 52 per cent in 2017 to 46 per cent in 2021.

Tablets are the least unpopular devices for news in Singapore, showing a decline from 21 per cent in 2017 to 17 per cent in 2021.

Source: Digital News Report 2021 / Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism

On a wider scale across all the markets surveyed, the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism found that the use of smartphones for news has grown at its fastest rate for many years, with 73 per cent heavily relying on their mobile phones throughout COVID-19 lockdowns in multiple countries.

“Use of laptop and desktop computers and tablets for news is stable or falling, while the penetration of smart speakers remains limited in most countries – especially for news,” the institute found.

In terms of overall trust in the news across markets, the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism found that trust in the news has grown, on average, by six percentage points in the wake of the pandemic.

44 per cent of respondents said they trust most news most of the time, according to the institute.

“This reverses, to some extent, recent falls in average trust bringing levels back to those of 2018. Finland remains the country with the highest levels of overall trust (65%), and the USA now has the lowest levels (29%) in our survey,” said the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism.

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