Last week, the Reuters Institute for the study of Journalism published their latest Digital News Report. The research revealed new insights about digital news consumption based on a survey of over 74,000 online news consumers in 37 countries.
The headline findings included that a growing number of consumers are losing trust and confidence in Facebook as a news source, which they do not perceive as reliable. There has been a 7% drop over the past 4 years in Facebook as a news source for U.S. consumers and both the UK and Germany have experienced similar declines. However, reliance on other social media platforms for news – namely Instagram, Snapchat and WhatsApp – is rising. Demand for print, despite structural problems in the global newspaper industry, remains strong in many countries.
The Pagefield Global Counsel team has analysed some of the key trends in 10 important jurisdictions.
UK – Increasing popularity of online news platforms undermines traditional news in print.
In the last year, news in print has seen a further decline, following a trend which has emerged over the last five years, despite the fact UK consumers report lower levels of trust in the news they read online and on social media (only 12% trust the news they read over social media). Convenience and cost are significant factors which affect how people in the UK choose to consume their news. This year has also seen a noticeable rise (5-6%) in the number of people who say they engage with the news via their smartphone.
While the number of people who pay to consume news online has grown very slightly (to 7%), it still remains significantly lower than in other European countries and the USA . Online media outlets who do not have a paywall (The Guardian, Mail Online) report higher usage than those that do (Telegraph online, Times online) despite the fact that this does not reflect the percentage of readers who trust these sources.
France – Government considers legislative changes to improve accessibility of news.
In France, access to news is driven by digital devices, including computers (56%), tablets (20%) and smartphones (51%). France is also launching initiatives including partisan digital operations, podcasts and subscription-based investigative web publications. Newspapers in France continue to struggle with declining circulation: since 2013 the percentage of people using print has declined from 46% to 20%. Similarly, TV news, which remains France’s most popular source of news, continued to fall as a source year by year from 84% in 2013 to 71% in 2018.
However, the newly elected President Emmanuel Macron made it clear he is willing to see reforms to management, reductions in costs, improved programmes and increased multimedia integration in the French broadcasting landscape. France is also very concerned by fake news, and, as a result, trust in news is relatively low (35%) compared to other European countries. This concern pushed President Macron to introduce a new law to fight the spread of fake news, to combat a problem he says threatens liberal democracies. The law is currently under discussion, and will provide an urgent judicial procedure during the presidential, legislative, senatorial and European elections as well as the cooperation of social media users to denounce “fake news”.
Germany – Legislative changes influencing national news brands.
Germany recently had a controversial and restrictive network law implemented under the Network Enforcement Act, which obliged online or social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook to remove any controversial content. Not removing disturbing or racist content is illegal and can be fined by up to €50 million. This has been especially criticised in the Reichstag, since controversial political debates from the far-right party, the AfD, have been suppressed through not being widely published. Criticism stems from the fact that this law has been seen to restrict freedom of expression or opinion.
Germany’s most important business model in the news market is digital advertising and online subscriptions which have increased in the past years. For instance, Der Spiegel now uses online subscriptions. However, subscription growth has remained low year-on year at just 8%.
Italy – Political turmoil causing distrust in news broadcasters.
In Italy, there has been rising levels of confidence and trust in social media news with around 22% of the population trusting news from social platforms. However, there has been a deterioration of trust in traditional newspapers, as the tone of political debates has soured as the country deals with contentious immigration issues and the rise of populist parties. For example, political conflict in Italy resulted in misinformation about immigrant crimes being conveyed to the public.
However, online news broadcasters, such as ANSA and La Repubblica online, still dominate the news sector due to their high weekly usage. Interestingly, in contrast to Germany, a rising number of people started using social media as their primary news source.
Spain – Political crisis sparks bias within various news platforms.
The sovereignty crisis in Catalonia, which stretched out for months, unsurprisingly got extensive media coverage and emerged as the story which dominated the Spanish press this year. The four main Madrid-based newspapers and the two main titles in Catalonia defended the legal status quo supported by the central government and most political parties.
In addition, Spanish public broadcaster RTVE and the Catalan Broadcasting Corporation came under scrutiny – the latter for focusing its reporting on the pro-independence process, the former for its general pro-governmental bias. For example, 69% of the general population in Spain are concerned about fake news. As a result, a law passed in September established closer parliamentary scrutiny in the appointment of RTVE’s governing board and presidency.
Australia – Media law reform strengthened influence and power of Digital News.
A long-awaited overhaul of media ownership laws took place. The purpose of this series of reforms is to support the viability of local organisations as they face increasing global competition in the digital landscape. Critics warned the reforms could lead to an increase in concentration of ownership, while the media industry welcomed the changes. For instance, the rising use of digital news is reflected through 20% of Australians paying for online news in 2018.
The Australian Consumer and Competition Commission launched an inquiry regarding the impact of search engines and platforms, such as Google and Facebook, on the supply of news and journalistic content. A Senate Committee Inquiry into the Future of Public Interest Journalism assessed ways the government could maintain a strong media sector.
Singapore – Government’s regulation of the quality of news wins people’s trust.
With 75% of the population in Singapore accessing news through their mobiles in 2018, online news consumption has become one of the most rapidly growing digital trends in the Southeast Asian country. The Singaporean government is already notorious for its strict control of the media; the introduction of campaigns and government initiatives to specifically combat the spread of ‘fake news’ has contributed to increasing levels of trust in online content, and thus readership.
However, in common with other countries, the use of private messaging apps, such as WhatsApp, to share content makes it much harder for the authorities to track and tackle the exchange of ‘fake news’.
South Korea – Rising public distrust in the reliability and accuracy of national news.
In South Korea there is an observable uncertainty in the quality of news available among the consumers surveyed this year. Overall trust in the news appears strikingly low in comparison with the other countries reviewed in the survey (at only 25%), while trust in news received over social media is even lower at 19%. The Korean Communications Commission reflects the sense of indecision in the population of the country at large- their deliberations about introducing regulation to curtail the spread of fake news being tempered by concerns that this would be interpreted as attempting to limit free speech.
There is added difficulty in attempting to regulate digital platforms in the country because of the prevalence of free news sites. Following a trend in neighbouring countries, there is a strong preference in South Korea for consuming news in video format but wariness of the reliability of TV news broadcasters, accounting for the growing popularity of YouTube in the country.
Brazil – Rising usage of online news requires a change in national advertising methods.
In the past year, the number of hours of television watched by the Brazilian population has increased with TV stations attracting more than 50% of the gross advertising investment in Brazil. Correlating with the global trend, several newspapers reduced the frequency of publication and major dailies tightened their online paywalls, as the public increasingly consume news online.
The public’s use of Facebook to consume news decreased, instead, turning to WhatsApp and Instagram as organisations work to stop the spread of so-called ‘fake news’, especially ahead of 2018’s presidential elections. As global concerns over security and privacy heightened, increasing numbers of Brazilians are using ad-blockers, in turn requiring media organisations to rethink their advertising strategies.
USA – Political developments resulting in the need to improve the quality of news.
In the US, TV remains the most powerful media outlet, with news distribution operating at a faster pace as the world entered the Trump era. The US media landscape witnessed an increase in digital subscribers to major publications such as The New York Times and the Washington Post, however, the consumption of local news decreased following revelations that a major national broadcasting group was encouraging anchors to perpetuate the narrative of ‘fake news’.
The media landscape has seen an increase in collaboration between journalistic organisations and major tier 1 news outlets as they work on increasing numbers of in-depth investigative pieces. Advertising on platforms such as YouTube suffered after companies retracted ads after they were seen to have been placed alongside extremist content. For instance, 64% of US citizens are worried about the issue of fake or biased news. Overall, there has been an increase in scepticism in the US media landscape, exacerbated by the recent Facebook data scandal.
Leonor Díaz-Córdova, Associate Partner
Valérie Choplin, Executive
Charlotte Dixon, Executive
Catherine Shafto, Executive
Maxine Stott, Executive
Isabella Arders, Intern