Thomas Jefferson – the American statesman, diplomat, lawyer, architect, philosopher and Founding Father who served as the third president of the US from 1801 to 1809 – famously said that if he had to choose, he would prefer newspapers without a government rather than a government without newspapers.
But even though mainstream media functioned well – much better than the government – during the pandemic in informing the Israeli public about the dangers of Corona, the urgency of getting vaccinated, the suffering of the population and the economic devastation, it seems that Israelis don’t appreciate what journalists have accomplished in the past year.
A survey that included 1,200 respondents aged 18 and over who constitute a representative sample of the adult population in Israel by the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) at Tel Aviv University and the Midgam Institute on public perceptions of the functioning of the media in the pandemic did not bring the media praise.
Fully 61% maintained that the “media handling” of the crisis has been unreliable; 64% thought the media are not objective; 63% believed that media handling of a crisis exacerbated controversy; and 49% testified that their ability to understand reality had been impaired due to fake news.
The fact that the respondents were not asked specifically which news sources they regarded as “the media” and that Facebook, Twitter and other social media news written up by anyone were confused with newspapers, serious news websites, TV news and radio reports where professional journalists work, could have significantly affected the opinions of those polled.
The new comprehensive study, headed by Dr. Tzippy Yisraeli, is part of the National Security Index conducted by the INSS that will be presented in full at the INSS Annual International Conference that will open this coming Tuesday, with the main speaker Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff General Aviv Kochavi.
According to the survey, 39% of Israeli adults perceived the media’s reporting on the pandemic as credible, and just 36% believed that reported news was objective. The trend also continues with regard to professionalism in the media, with 58% finding media treatment unprofessional while 42% found it professional. The study also sought to examine the degree of public satisfaction with the degree of responsibility of the media when it comes to dealing with the crisis. Sixty percent thought that the treatment was not responsible while only 40% think it was. Fully 63% of the public believed that the media exacerbates existing disputes in society, while only 31% disagreed but said the media did not contribute to solidarity and six percent responded that media treatment did during the crisis. Another interesting point that came up in the study is that a large part of the public felt that their ability to understand reality was harmed due to “fake news.” Nearly half said they felt impaired in their ability to understand reality, while 15% responded that their ability to understand what was happening was not impaired.
As to which sources in the the media Israelis felt influence their worldview most of all? Social media and TV led the way with 25% each, followed by online news sites with 22%, the print press with just over 5% and radio with 5%. It is interesting to note that 18% responded that none of these media outlets influence their worldview.
It should be noted that according to previous public opinion studies by the INSS, which focused on military and security issues, it was found that when it comes to these issues, the majority of the public thought that the media usually reliably reports on the political-security situation. It is also interesting to note that this year there has been a significant increase in the public’s trust in experts in the professional field for information and facts on national security issues.