‘Triangular trust or mistrust?': social trust, political trust and news media credibility in the context of Ethiopia.
Seid, Abdi Ali.
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Access to and use of the media by the public, including public perceptions of media credibility, are important elements in grasping the role of the media and why it exists (Wanta and Hu, 1994). The mass media play a critical role in socio-economic and political transformation of societies in the sense that they significantly contribute to shaping and reflecting relations between the State and society and elites and the public (O’Neil, 1998). In developing countries like Ethiopia, the media also have a significant role in nation-building and political transformation. The success of the mass media, therefore, depends on its credibility and believability in the eyes of members of the public. These two pillars of media existence constitute the foundation for public trust and confidence (Garrison, 1992). News media credibility is considered as an essential element of effective communication (Rayudu, 1998). In this regard, and as Steyn (1996) observed, credibility is the media's most cherished possession which allows them to be worthy of belief. Media and society are intertwined with each other (McQuail, 2005) and the issue of trust or mistrust is not bound, nor does it exist only in the circle of the media environment. Rather, it is mirrored in all facets of society, including the socio-political arena. Mindful of this, my thesis focuses on exploring the intertwined relationships between and among social trust (particularized and generalized trust), political/institutional trust and news media credibility from perspectives of the public. The thesis assesses public trust and confidence in the media, media access and media usage patterns within selected independent variables, i.e. region, residential area, gender, age, income, education and political affiliation. Given the fact that there is no universally-agreed conceptual framework for analyzing levels of social trust, political trust and media credibility, including the triangulation of trust or mistrust, I used a combination of proven theories and approaches in analyzing respondents perceptions of social trust, political trust and media credibility. In assessing public media access, exposure, consumption patterns and preferences, I used the integrated model of audience choice, which is the new version of the media uses and gratifications theory. My findings revealed that ownership of various household media hardware, media exposure, motives for media choice and use, including the social context of media use, cannot be not be attributed to any single socio-demographic factor. Rather, a combination of multiple factors, such as residence, level of education, level of income, availability of communication networks/infrastructure and suitability of one type of media hardware against others, all variously influence ownership of household media hardware, media exposure, motives for media choice and use, including the social context of media use. I also applied the social and cultural theory and the institutional performance theory as a way of determining levels and reciprocity of social trust and political trust and media credibility. Findings indicated that there were low levels of social trust and political trust in general among respondents. The other finding was that there were variations in levels of social trust (particularized trust and generalized trust), political trust and media credibility across respondents’ socio-demographic factors. In analysing levels of trust or mistrust, political views and ideological orientation of members of the public are significant. Political ideas and beliefs of the public are reflected in their day-to-day life and, invariably, influence their assessment and perceptions of media credibility. My findings further indicated that there were relationships between and among social trust, political trust and media credibility. Triangulation of trust and mistrust, however, varied across variables. Respondents in Tigray, for instance, had highest trust ratings for particularized trust, political trust and trust in national news media. Conversely, respondents in Addis Ababa had the least particularized trust, political trust and confidence in national news media and the highest trust in international news media. These findings may be useful in prompting further research in the extent to which social trust, political trust and media credibility in Ethiopia are entwined and have reciprocal interrelationships and dependencies.