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South Africans don’t trust the government or the media, the latest Trust Barometer from public relations and reputation management group Edelman has found.

The Edelman Trust Barometer for 2020, published alongside the launch of the World Economic Forum in Davos this week, is based on 36,000 survey responses in 28 different markets, including South Africa.

The study gauges the level of trust citizens in each of the countries assessed have in four key societal institutions, namely government, business, NGOs and the media.

In a complete paradox, the 2020 barometer reveals that despite a strong global economy and near full employment, none of the four institutions are actually trusted – and in the case of government, least of all by South Africans.

According to Edelman, two global realities exist when it comes to trust, which causes the paradox.

In the first reality, the so-called “informed public” – wealthier, more educated, and frequent consumers of news – are far more trusting of every institution, while in the second reality, the mass population feel that the institutions are working against them.

“In a majority of markets, less than half of the mass population trust their institutions to do what is right. There are now a record eight markets showing all-time-high gaps between the two audiences—an alarming trust inequality,” Edelman said.

“Distrust is being driven by a growing sense of inequity and unfairness in the system. The perception is that institutions increasingly serve the interests of the few over everyone.”

Also underpinning this trust inequality is fear of the future, Edelman said, noting that 83% of employees in the study said they fear losing their job, attributing it to the gig economy, a looming recession, a lack of skills, cheaper foreign competitors, immigrants who will work for less, automation, or jobs being moved to other countries.

“These issues will require higher levels of cooperation among our institutions; no single entity can take on these complex challenges alone,” the group said. Unfortunately, there is little trust that business will do a good job of partnering with NGOs or government to achieve this.

According to Edelman, trust is directly linked to “doing what is right” (ethics) and fulfilling promises (competence) – however its study found that no institution was viewed as both ethical and competent.

Businesses were seen as competent, but unethical, while NGOs were seen as ethical, but incompetent. Government and media were seen as both incompetent and unethical.


South Africa

Looking more narrowly at the regional scales of trust, South Africans tend towards neutrality in trusting social institutions like NGOs and businesses.

However they are less trusting of the media (only 40% trust), and the country ranked as having the least trust in government out of all the countries assessed (only 20% trust).

This was still the case when looking at both local and regional governments, where the global trend was to see trust levels rise when dealing with a more local government.

Here, South Africa again had the lowest trust, not passing 25%.

When it comes to media, there is a global worry over fake news and the inclusion of agendas and misinformation in news coverage.

In the Middle East and Africa (encompassing South Africa’s results), news searches are the most trusted source of information, followed by traditional media. Social media is the least trusted platform for news. However trust in all media formats is declining.

People also largely agree (72% globally) that advertisers should steer clear or hold to account media platforms that share fake news. In South Africa, 78% agree with this.

Among the various information sources, technical and academic experts are seen to be the most trustworthy, while journalists and government officials are seen to be the least trustworthy.

Financial analysts and entrepreneurs have seen the biggest decline in trust over the last year, Edelman’s data showed.

You can read the full Edelman report here.


Read: From saving SAA to land expropriation without compensation – here are the ANC’s plans for South Africa

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