Macedonian Institute for Media in cooperation with M-Prospect agency conducted a survey of citizens’ views regarding media reporting during the COVID-19 pandemic. The telephone survey was conducted 14-20 December 2020, at a random sample of 1003 respondents.
The respondents were asked how much they agreed with the statement that media have been reporting professionally and impartially during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to their responses, every fourth respondent (25%) completely agrees with this statement, 39 % somewhat agree, 21.8% somewhat disagree, whereas 13.6% completely disagree. Considered cumulatively, the percentage of those who consider that the reporting has been professional and impartial is 64.1% and is larger than the percentage of those who disagree, which stands at 35.4%.
Analysis of the responses shows that the agreement with the statement for professional and impartial reporting increases with age. Thus, 19% of the 18-29 age group completely agree with the statement that media have been reporting professionally and impartially during the COVID-19 pandemic, the percentage with the 30-64 age group is 22%-23%, whereas with the age group above 65, the percentage is higher and stands at 36%. Nearly every third ethnic Macedonian, or 29.4%, completely agrees with this statement, in comparison to 13.3% of the surveyed ethnic Albanians.
Media in which citizens have most frequently spotted disinformation and false information are mainly the social media (28.8%) and the television channels (26.8%). Nearly 19 % of the respondents said that they had spotted disinformation and misinformation on the internet portals, 8.7% in print media, around 4% on radio. 12% hadn’t spotted disinformation and misinformation. It is notable that the younger generations, from 18 to 39 years of age highlight social media and internet portals as types of media where they spotted disinformation and misinformation in comparison to the older, especially those above 50, who highlight television as a source of disinformation and misinformation.
From those that had pointed social media as source of disinformation and misinformation, the largest percentage (84.5%) pointed Facebook, 7.6% YouTube and 5.8% the social network Twitter.
False, unchecked information and disinformation is what the majority of respondents (39.7%) object to in the way how journalists report. 15.3% of the respondents said media bias towards certain political centres of power bothered them, 13.5% have a problem with discrimination of certain groups in society and hate speech, 12% pointed that sensationalism in reporting bothered them, 8.3% said it was disrespect of privacy and 9.6% said had no complaints for journalistic reporting.
Looked through the prism of ethnicity, the results differ with ethnic Macedonians and Albanians – sensationalism, discrimination of certain societal groups and disrespect of privacy in reporting was more frequently mentioned by the ethnic Albanians, whereas the ethnic Macedonians objected more to the reporting of false, unchecked information and disinformation, as well as the bias towards the political centres of power.
Regarding themes for which the respondents spotted false information and disinformation, largest percentage (22.7%) point to themes about number of people infected with coronavirus, then vaccine safety (13.7%), treatment of the virus infection (12.1%), origin of the virus (11.3%), availability of tests (11.2%), religious festivities of Ramadan Bayram and Easter (8.8%), as well as the parliamentary elections and the pandemic (4.7%), the beginning of the school year during the crisis (2.7%). The percentage of those that hadn’t spotted disinformation and false information is 8.4%.
Regarding the issue of who produces disinformation and misinformation, every fourth respondent said the political parties and elites did (25.5%), more than a fifth (22.5%) said the journalists and media themselves, 19.3% said individuals on social networks, 12.7% said the health authorities. Experts from the field of medicine and international actors were pointed by 3% of the respondents.
Ethnic Albanians to a greater degree more than ethnic Macedonians consider that health authorities themselves cause disinformation (26.2% in comparison to 8%).
Two thirds of the respondents (69.6%) said they were satisfied by the quality of information from the institutions during the pandemic, with 22% saying they were completely satisfied, whereas 47.6% said were somewhat satisfied. Thus, the percentage of respondents who are satisfied by the quality of information communicated by the institutions during the pandemic is larger with the ethnic Macedonians.
When asked which sources of information respondents trust most during the COVID-19 pandemic, domestic TV channels (50.5%) are the most frequent choice and nearly one quarter (23.8%) trust most foreign TV channels. The percentage of those who trust the information received from social media friendships is 7.8%. Information published by the internet portals was trusted by 5% of the respondents and 4.1% trusted printed media. However, this data should be considered into the context of general decrease in newspapers readership and growing migration, especially of the younger audiences, online. Trust in domestic TV channels grows with age, especially with those above 50, whereas trust in internet portals and information received via social media friendships is highest with the 18-49 age group and afterwards decreases.
Those who responded to whom they trust most as a source of information, were asked also why they trusted the said sources. Accurate and timely reporting was the reason for 41.3% of the respondents, impartial reporting for 30.5%, diverse and comprehensive reporting for 20.2%, and for 5.8% reporting without sensationalism was the reason for trust.
Respondents also answered the question whether they consider if certain marginalised societal groups were sufficiently represented in media reporting during the COVID-19 pandemic. Every third respondent (37.6%) considers that women were insufficiently represented in reporting, in comparison to nearly 60% who considered that they were sufficiently represented. Every other respondent (48.7%) considers that children were insufficiently represented. There is division of views when it comes to media representation of Roma (45.2% who consider that they were sufficiently represented, in comparison to 50.5% who consider they were not). Every other respondent considers that the LGBTI community was insufficiently mentioned. There is similar distribution of responses for disabled persons – 45.2% consider they were represented, in comparison to 50.3% that they were not.
20.2% of the respondents are aged 18-29, 18.7% are in the 30-39 age group, 18% are aged 40-49, 21.4% belong to the 50-64 age group and 21.5% of the respondents are above 65 years of age.
72% of the respondents are Macedonians, 23.2% are Albanians, 4.8% have declared other ethnicity.
3.2% of the respondents haven’t completed elementary school, 15.2% have completed elementary school, more than half of the respondents (55.5%) have completed high school, 5.6% have completed college, 18.9% have completed undergraduate university education 1.6% have completed postgraduate education.
16.5% of the respondents are employed in the public administration, one quarter of the respondents (24.7%) are employed in the private sector, 1.2% in non-governmental organisations, 5.0% are self-employed, 3.3% are farmers, 16.8% of the respondents are unemployed, 7.8% are students, 4.2% are occupied in domestic work and 20.5% of the respondents are pensioners.
Nearly two fifths of the respondents (39.1%) live in the country, 60.9% live in a town.
The survey was conducted within the project News and Digital Literacy Project – Where Fake News Fails, implemented by the Macedonian Institute for Media, the Institute for Communication Studies, the Independent Trade Union of Journalists and Media Workers, and the Media Diversity Institute from London, funded by the European Union.
The findings in this survey are the sole responsibility of the surveying agency and the purchaser of the service and should not be considered to reflect the views of the European Union.