Public trust in government drops during era of ‘information bankruptcy’

But annual index show citizens in UAE and Saudi Arabia keeping their faith in global institutions

A mob of supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump storm the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, U.S., January 6, 2021. Picture taken January 6, 2021. REUTERS/Leah Millis
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Trust in government has dropped significantly, with many people around the world unsure where to turn for reliable information, a new study found.

The Edelman Trust Barometer's annual report, in which "institutions" denote governments, businesses, NGOs and media, revealed an "epidemic of misinformation" and widespread public mistrust.
It found the level of trust in government worldwide has fallen in a trend that has accelerated during the Covid-19 pandemic.

A majority of respondents (61 per cent) said business is the most trustworthy institution, replacing government (53 per cent).

In addition, business is the only institution deemed ethical and competent enough to solve the world’s problems, while chief executives are considered the most trustworthy societal leaders.

Nine in 10 respondents said they want business leaders to speak out on labour and social issues and the effects of the pandemic, while more than two-thirds expect chief executives to step in when the government fails to solve problems.

“This is the era of information bankruptcy,” said Richard Edelman, chief executive of Edelman. “We’ve been lied to by those in charge and media sources are seen as politicised and biased. The result is a lack of quality information and increased divisiveness.

“The events of this past year reinforced business’s responsibility to lead on societal issues, such as upskilling workers and racial justice.

“It has also led to new expectations of business expanding its remit into unfamiliar areas, such as providing and safeguarding information.”

As a whole, confidence in government fell from a high of 65 per cent in May 2020 to 53 per cent by the year’s end. The decrease was particularly sharp in South Korea, Britain and China, which saw a fall of up to 10 percentage points.

Emiratis shop at the Dubai grand market, in the Gulf city of Dubai, on January 6, 2021. (Photo by Karim SAHIB / AFP)
Emiratis shop at the grand market in Dubai. The UAE consistently has one of the highest scores on the Edelman Trust Index. AFP.

The UAE and Saudi Arabia recorded some of the highest scores in the trust index, with 67 and 69 per cent of respondents saying they had faith in global institutions respectively. This is compared with about 56 per cent in the rest of the world.

The survey was conducted between November 2018 and October 2019 with the participation of more than 33,000 respondents from 28 countries, with a supplement carried out in December after the US presidential election.

The survey also discovered a reluctance to take the Covid-19 vaccine as governments around the world prepare to inoculate billions of people.

About 33 per cent of respondents said they would take the vaccine as soon as possible, and 31 per cent said they would take it within a year.

"The violent storming of the US Capitol last week and the fact that only one third of people are willing to get a Covid vaccine crystallise the dangers of misinformation," Mr Edelman said.

The Edelman Trust Barometer 2021 measured trust levels in global institutions amongst members of the public in 28 different countries. 
The Edelman Trust Barometer 2021 measured trust levels in global institutions amongst members of the public in 28 different countries. 

Confidence in traditional media outlets dropped eight percentage points to 53 per cent although they still attracted more trust than social media, which fell to 35 per cent.

Many considered media to be doing a poor job at objective and non-partisan reporting, with Japan, Italy and Argentina registering particularly high scores of mistrust.

After the recent United States presidential election, 63 per cent of Joe Biden voters said they trusted journalists, while 21 per cent of Donald Trump voters said the same.