Can mainstream media be trusted? We’ve all heard the accusations of “fake news” being bandied about, and attacks on journalists seem to be de rigueur for politicians these days. It’s true that there have been media scandals in the past, such as phone-hacking in the UK. Most recently, in the United States, several journalists for CNN have just resigned after an article they worked on was retracted. Does it follow, however, that mainstream media in general is therefore untrustworthy?

As the European refugee crisis intensified, distrust of journalists also seemed to increase. For example, a study commissioned by the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung from 2015 showed that a majority of Germans felt that the media did not present a true picture of the refugee crisis. Yet 39% of the adult population also found that the allegation of a Lügenpresse (“lying press”) propagated by the anti-immigration Pegida movement was somewhat offensive.

The same pattern has been repeated throughout Europe; confidence in the media fell across the continent in 2015, as this Eurobarometer survey shows. But what does it look like today? Is the credibility problem faced by journalism even greater today? And are the media really as manipulative as some believe (including some of our readers, for example here and here)?

The Schwarzkopf Foundation, as part of its “Understanding in Europe” project, has collected questions and comments from pupils from across Germany. We’ve taken these questions and put them to EU politicians and experts to get a response.

First, we wanted to know whether confidence in the media has really been falling. We spoke with Kim Otto, Professor of Economic Journalism at the University of Würzburg, who together with his team analysed the questionnaires of the Eurobarometer study scientifically. Have Germans lost trust in the media?

So, according to the empirical data we have, this is a phantom debate. […] There are many surveys that ask people about their confidence in the media. If you ask about trust in the media, then you get relatively negative responses. But if you ask about trust in the press, radio or TV, you get relatively positive responses. We have long-term data from 2001 to 2016, and for every year in Germany we have a representative question: “Do you have confidence in the press, in the radio and on television?” And never before has confidence been as high as 2016. That means people trust the traditional media, but not the Internet. And when I ask about trust in the media, many respondents also think automatically about the Internet and the information on the Internet is very untrustworthy.

Next up, we had a question sent in by a German student asking about how independent the media really are, particularly those reporting on Europe. To get a response, we spoke to Julia Bönisch, editor-in-chief of What would she say?

There are many media that report independently and neutrally on Europe. I think you can trust all the big media. People often perceive such media as manipulative […] We are considered a rather liberal left-wing newspaper, in contrast to the FAZ, which is rather conservative. Because of this perspective, we evaluate events differently, but that does not mean that we report manipulatively. On the contrary, we also try to separate clearly between news and opinion in our paper. News is about reporting only what has happened. Analysis is then made in special columns, which are also marked as comment. This opinion can be followed, but you do not have to. Even if one disagrees, it is always worth reading such pieces, because they stimulate thought and it is good to deal with other opinions.

To hear a different opinion, we also talked to Tabea Rößner, a member of the Bundestag and a media spokesperson for the Greens.

In Germany, the media insist that they are independent. Media are not sponsored by the state, which means they do not get money from the state. It is clear that journalists and politicians are always in dialogue. And journalists, too, have, of course, political opinions. That’s why we say in Germany that we want a diverse media landscape. Especially because of the historical experience of National Socialism, in which media were a mass propaganda tool. Therefore, we have a public-law broadcasting system that must reflect the diversity of opinion within society. And public broadcasting is financed independently, as all citizens pay for it. It is therefore not dependent on state funds, because then there is the risk of partial reporting […] Therefore I believe that we have a very good system in Germany to ensure a lack of state control.

Next up, we had a student question about the phenomenon of Donald Trump, who prefers to use Twitter instead of give interviews to journalists. The question was: Do we still need media if politicians can spread their message directly over the Internet? We wanted to hear an answer to this from journalist Julia Bönisch.

Of course, politicians, just like companies, communicate directly with users, viewers and consumers. But you also need people in between to curate or even challenge their statements. […] For example, journalists can create connections and show what was said just a few years ago and how politicians’ opinions have changed. These are tasks that only media can perform. Politicians will never draw attention to such things. And that is why I believe that media is indispensable to democracy and to an informed discussion by society about politics.

And what does the chairman of the German Association of Journalists, Frank Überall, say?

So I think the role of the media as curators is very important. The individual opinion of a politician is of little value if one wants to understand a situation correctly. For this, one needs different opinions and one needs them concentrated in one place and professionally presented, weighted and analysed. This is what journalists do.

You can of course sit down and join the opinions yourself. You can also sit down and bake a pie every Sunday. Sometimes it is more convenient to go to the baker.

Do you trust the media? Do you believe they are trying to manipulate you? Or do these accusations of “manipulation” and “fake news” come from people who simply have a different political attitude? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to politicians and experts for their reactions!

IMAGE CREDITS: (c) BigStockPhoto – hadrian
This debate was published in cooperation with the Schwarzkopf Stiftung and their project “Understanding Europe”. Disclaimer

50 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. avatar
    Mike Chambers

    With the media, it is important to take a wide range of views from different journals and online journals.

  2. avatar
    Shibabrata Das

    Now a day’s Media houses across the globe are propagating ,influencingand inmposing their view on others.
    They are not independent media..

    • avatar
      Paul X

      The last place to trust is the internet, anyone can set up their own media site…… and just exactly how do you go about verifying these reports, from other internet sites?

  3. avatar
    Fernando Nabais

    Western media nowadays is no more than a propaganda tool. It is just like the Nazi or Sovietic media.

  4. avatar
    Rosy Forlenza

    until it gets off the net, no. mainstream media needs to use the net to highlight what is in its papers, and encourage people back to newspapers or subs. so we get articles of substance rather than silly blogs aimed at click bait. we also need to be clear that whether you are a tabloid or broadsheet, centre left or centre right, that actually liable still exists and if you lie, encite hatred (c.f daily mail inciting violence against the uk’s constitutional judges), and do not de-troll your comments page then you should not call yourself all means call yourself neo nazi ..but they should not be allowed to hide under the cover of the respectability that mainstream implies. no reason why a centre left paper cannot address evidenced claims or arguments in the centre right and vice versa, that is what debate is about, but when every article coming on line from previously very credible newspapers is an ‘editorial’ (really) it needs to stop, maybe reframe the question, should we save our newspapers from e-algorithms and clickbait mentality?

  5. avatar
    Vagelis Sar

    The mass media are corporations. It ‘s job is to practice public relations for the interests of their owners. The fact that we are heading to the century of artificial intelligence means that soon their general managers would be computers. There is nothing trustful in this option.

  6. avatar
    Stef Kostov

    It seems every big news outlet is biased, because it is bought by the big corporations. I tend to trust local journalists and independent writers a lot more.

  7. avatar
    Stefania Portici

    globalizzazione, pensiero unico, mancanza di democrazia rappresentativa negli Stati . Questi….hanno “abbassato il volume ” del giornalismo vero autentico e “acceso, alzato” la voce del pensiero unico . Pochi giornalisti coraggiosi hanno fatto davvero il loro mestiere che è quello di informare in modo competente a 360 gradi. Il mio Paese , in quanto ad informazione seria ,autentica , risulta essere molto meglio di altri Paesi

  8. avatar
    Joao Antonio Camoes

    Yes; but you have to choose carefully and wise. Rule nr one: do not trust media supported by govs or corporations rule 2: always use contraditory rule 3; on international issues listen to other geography or political camp to confront

    • avatar
      Azad Maruf

      As none want to say truth about their opposites or against themselves …

  9. avatar
    Sebastiano Schavoir

    If we had to get rid of all books in a library which contradict other books, then all that be left in the end would be mathematics books.

  10. avatar
    Paul X

    Considering everyone’s experience of the rest of the planet outside their own immediate environment comes via some form of media, you have to either trust it, or withdraw into some insular, paranoid world where everything is a lie

    What the real issue is that every different source of media has it’s own agenda and will spin the facts to suit this, very few Western, mainstream media outlets tell absolute lies, but they do manipulate the truth and as long as everyone appreciates this then there is no problem

  11. avatar
    Faddi Zsolt

    The mainstream media serve news which are ordered by the so called “elite”, the rulers of the world. War in Iraq, War in Yugoslavia, war in Ukraine, war in Lybia, war in Afghanistan or war in Syria are the well-explained wars on mainstream speaking-tube!

  12. avatar
    Luis García

    First tell me the names of the media shelholders. The fourth power has become a fallacy. Long time ago.

    • avatar
      Azad Maruf

      That share holders or the actual owners of media and press are the main roles players for several essential issues such as politics, economy untill that reaches the changes in people’s languages also….that is up to those to direct the others in accordance to their hidden intrests…

  13. avatar
    Michael Pilos

    This is such as sensitive topic! It’s sensitive because few media/editors/journalists can actually grasp the whole of the political, socioeconomic and other aspects of information, disinformation or misinformation taking place. Surely we are all biased. But some can and/or are willing to get a better understanding of the bigger picture than most. So the art in journalism and opinion leadership – which is exactly what media platforms are supposed to do – is tricky. How does one balance all these parameters for reinforcing the common good? And what is the common good? It used to be that the common objective was in regards to the political party… it then became nationalistic… now it’s becoming supranational… shortly it will become globalized (i.e. environment) or maybe not… because we need to “make America Great Again”. European platforms are good but its critical thinking evolved across schools in the EU that will in return force media to perform accordingly.

  14. avatar
    Dimitar Peev

    Not the media (TV, newspapers etc.) in Eastern Europe. Media washes the images of corrupted politicians and denies existence of the mafia.

  15. avatar
    Azad Maruf

    It is their ‘s the biggest undjusted battle as That share holders or the actual owners of media and press are the main roles players for several essential issues such as politics, economy untill that reaches the changes in people’s languages also….that is up to those to direct the others in accordance to their hidden intrests… Independance in media was not there as it is the nature of our divided societies and in return none pays money or attentions for something does not suits him or her…

  16. avatar
    António Morais Rodrigues

    The media must satisfy advertisers. Wich many times are their own share holders to. So there s no real freedom of information and reporters are not independent from these circumstances, and many, many times work for this interests.

  17. avatar
    Tarquin Farquhar


    DebatingEurope, OneEurope and Euronews are sponsored by the EU ergo their content is ‘compromised’.

    BBC and France24 are ideologically pro-EU disposed ergo their content is ‘compromised’.

  18. avatar
    catherine benning

    Trust them to do what? Journalists massage a story until it is unrecognisable. Ask anyone who has been written about in any newspaper. On any subject. It is distressing. Their object is not to inform, it is to manipulate. And that can either be for the editor, or, owners political agender or their bias.

    Yesterday I read a piece that had the facts different three times in the one story. It was laughable. Mind you we were led to believe they gave an accurate account on matters, but the truth is, they never did. At least not since WWII. The freelance propaganda they were given to write changes their moral ethos and that stayed with them. Of course now they want to sensationalise. They think it sells papers. Pathetic.

    And TV news. Well, that is fake news most of the time. Again mind manipulation in the most coarse form. They often set the scene film it with actors as with the White Helmet story. War propaganda being the most dramatic. With the most spin.

    Again tax payer paid for through government agencies. And it costs a fortune.

  19. avatar

    The Media will always have an agenda, some Journalists are leftists pretending to be fair and balanced when they are not as is the case with CNN and their obvious Trump obsession. We also see this in Europe where certain media are more than willing to bash Trump in cipy and paste fashion on stories originating from anti Trump us media. Bash Trump all ypu want bit don’t do it whilst claiming to be fair and balanced, tell the people you have an agenda, tell them you have a preference and let them make up their own mind.

  20. avatar
    Yavor Hadzhiev

    The problem for me is not so much that mainstream media do not portray facts. The two main problems I see are: the ideological bias that is so often disguised as neutrality; and the sensationalism at the expense of the coverage of very important issues and events – especially for those that are worse-off. Sometimes, the class nature of the media is really visible, and a good sign is how often people in power get to speak as compared to destitute people.

  21. avatar
    Tina Sharma

    No. The media has lost its credibility!!!

  22. avatar


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