Saturday 9 May 2020


Before my latest disappearing act, I posted about a Sky News/YouGov poll which suggests massive and growing distrust of broadcast journalists.

I think it's fair to say that this particular poll didn't go down too well with many in the media, with lots of leading lights - from Sky's Adam Boulton to ITV's Mark Austin and the BBC's John Simpson - pouncing on other polls that suggest far higher levels of public trust.

They also promoted dismissive comments from other pollsters and commentators in response to it. 

Other media defenders pointed to multiple polls suggesting that distrust in the media has been around for a while and long preceded the coronavirus crisis (though how helpful that is for the media I rather doubt!). 

In the first flurry of reaction and counter-reaction I noted that Cardiff University's Professor Stephen Cushion was prominent among the media defenders being cited by the likes of John Simpson, and this week Prof. Cushion was being cited again by John Simpson for a new Cardiff University study which finds - surprise, surprise - that the public do still trust the media.

Here's John Simpson's tweet about it:
Note to Culture Sec Oliver Dowden, who claims that the BBC risks losing public confidence: a study in today’s Independent finds that BBC News has a trust rating of 85%, while ITV & Ch4 have 73% & Sky has 69%. And people want more scrutiny of govt policy, not less.
My cynicism about Cardiff University's reports remains strong: Previous studies, you will recall, found the BBC to be right-wing and anti-EU. Their key researchers are a mix of hardcore left-wing media conspiracy theorists, far-left-activists, pro-EU people, centre-left folk and ex-BBC staff. And their hand-in-glove relationship with/dependency on the BBC, which uses them to reinforce all their major impartiality reviews, appears deeply unhealthy to me. 

But that's a bit too ad hominem. What actually troubles me about their latest study of less than 200 people is the mirror image of Prof. Cushion's concerns about the Sky/YouGov poll. 

He suggests that this Sky/YouGov poll asked its questions in a way that wasn't ideal  - even though it was commissioned by Sky News. But I'm far happier with the transparent questions put by YouGov (which anyone can read) than I am with Cardiff University's opaque in-depth one-on-one discussions with voters. 

What did the Cardiff University researchers ask the people being studied? Were their questions in any way leading questions? Did they comment throughout the discussions in such a way as to influence their subjects? Was there hidden bias in their questions?

Obviously, we'd need to see transcripts of the in-depth one-on-one discussions the Cardiff University researchers conducted and we'd need to inspect the wording of every question put by the researchers...

...especially if they bring about the truly fantastical-sounding result of 85% trust for BBC News, which I simply don't believe.

Still, I can see why the likes of John Simpson would enjoy reading Stephen Cushion in The Independent telling him that the public loves the BBC. 

But, John, what if it's not true that 85% of the public trust the BBC's journalists? What if Sky/You Gov were actually nearer the truth? What price your well-Cushioned comfort blankets then?

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