By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS
Only 37 percent of Mexicans believe what they read in newspapers or hear on broadcast news programs, according to the 2021 edition of the Reuters Institute Digital News Report.
According to the report, which was published by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford in England on Wednesday, June 22, while in many parts of the world — especially in Europe — public trust in news has increased during the covid-19 pandemic, here in Mexico, media confidence decreased.
“Overall trust in the news (44 percent) has rebounded strongly (up 6 percent) over the last year in almost all countries – as has trust in the
sources people use most often themselves, which is up 4 points to 50 percent,” the report said.
But here in Mexico, the report said, public trust in news media has eroded by at least 2 percent in the last 12 months.
The report attributed much of that loss of confidence in Mexico’s news services to the ongoing verbal assaults on reporters and media by leftist President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) during his daily press conferences.
“On top of all the problems facing the media in Mexico – a polarized society, economic contraction, covid-19 – there are also frequent attacks from a populist president who accuses the media of unfair coverage and corruption,” it said.
“The president is getting more popular, and people are trusting the media less.”
The Mexican segment of the Reuters report — which was written by María Elena Gutiérrez Renteria, a professor of media at the esteemed Universidad Panamericana — went on to note that during his daily mañanera pressers, AMLO takes the opportunity to dish out “verbal bashings” to journalists who dare to challenge him or his often-arbitrary and even unconstitutional mandates.
“He prefers to take questions from what he refers to as ‘blessed social networks’ or from sympathetic fringe characters such as a bowtie-wearing YouTuber,” it said.
“López Obrador enthusiastically uses YouTube to connect with voters on social media, going over the heads of the traditional media, parts of which he accuses of having acted as propagandists for his predecessors.”
The report likewise pointed out that AMLO’s own government has, however, been extremely generous in its state advertising for supportive outlets.
“The approach is working for the president, whose popularity – around 50 percent at the time of writing – is arguably one of the highest figures in the history of Mexico,” the report continued.
“An economic nationalist who comes from the left, he espouses equality, vilifies the intelligentsia and appeals to the largest, lower income, segments of society.”
Comparing AMLO’s antagonistic attitude toward the press to that of former U.S President Donald Trump and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, the Reuters report went on to say that the similarities between the three men also included their much-criticized mishandling of the covid pandemic, as reflected by low testing rates, mask avoidance and a slow vaccination roll-out, as well as a high coronavirus death rate.
“The president’s attacks could be one reason for falling trust in the media among Mexicans,” the report said, noting that Mexico is “just one of a handful of countries in this year’s survey to see declining figures.”
However, it said, there are no doubt other factors that have come into play in tarnishing media credibility in Mexico.
It noted that the digital media service Aristegui News registered the largest year-on-year drop in confidence, falling 4 points in 2021 compared to its 2020 status, while the international broadcaster CNN, at 71 percent, was the most trusted brand in the survey, followed by El Universal newspaper, at 63 percent.
Milenio newspaper, Imágen news service and El Financiero newspapers, ranked third, fourth and fifth place, respectively.
National television broadcasters TV Azteca and Televisa were ranked as the least trusted news media in Mexico.
In its 2019 report, the Reuters Institute predicted that brands which “seemed to have an affinity with the then-new president, including Aristegui, might have been expecting to benefit from higher trust
However, the 2021 report showed that “that has not happened.”
One possible reason for that reality, the report said, is the seemingly increasing spread of false and misleading information.
“In our survey, 69 percent (of Mexicans) said they had seen false or misleading information about coronavirus and 52 percent about politics in the preceding week – both figures are considerably higher than the all-market average,” it said.
“Social networks and messaging apps are widely used in Mexico for news, especially by lower educated groups. When it comes to spreading misinformation, people say they are most concerned about the role played by Facebook (28 percent), followed by
messaging apps such as WhatsApp (26 percent), news websites (15 percent), search engines (7 percent), YouTube (6 percent) and Twitter (4 percent).”
The report said that following the 2018 election of López Obrador, there had been hope that there would be a reduction in violence against journalists, “but things have not improved.”
“In just a few days in 2020, three journalists were shot dead, taking the year’s tally to nine,” it pointed out.
“At least 120 journalists have been killed since 2000.”
The report also spoke about the changing news and information landscape of media in Mexico, noting that established media face audience polarization, declining advertising revenue and the need to respond to digital shifts in consumer habits.
“Nevertheless, traditional TV and radio are still the most popular media overall and receive the most advertising revenue,” it said.
“Traditional press (services) continue to play an important role.”