NEWS ANALYSIS: Is there really a crisis in trust?

The director-general of the BBC has suggested that trust in public institutions is in decline, but research published this week by global PR agency Edelman suggests otherwise. Claire Murphy investigates further.

Thompson: public trust is declining
Thompson: public trust is declining


BBC director-general Mark Thompson caught the headlines last week when he gave a speech analysing the causes and effects of the ‘drop in trust in public ins­titutions'. Acknowledging the BBC's troubles with this issue, thanks to a ser­ies of gaffes, he managed to spread the blame a little. His argument was that the public's trust in anything government-related is on the decline.

bar chartBut, according to Edelman's ninth annual Trust Barometer, published this week, the picture is much less bleak when you talk to what the agency terms the ‘opinion-forming elite'. These are the university-educated, heavy media consumers with an income in the top 25 per cent.

Research firm StrategyOne interviewed 200 of them in the UK as part of Edelman's global survey, 150 in the 35 to 64 age group and 50 who are 25-34 (the first time younger people have been included in the survey).

The rather surprising news from the older age group is that they are feeling far more trusting than a year ago. Trust in the media jumped from 19 per cent to 38 per cent, while 34 per cent of this group said they trusted the Government - a big leap from the 16 per cent who trusted the UK's political leadership last year.

What could account for this sudden rush of trust, particularly when poll after poll over the past year has documented the public's declining level of confidence in the media?

Perhaps the group of people polled take a more philosophical view of the ‘scandals' that have emerged from broadcasters?

As Edelman UK CEO Robert Phillips obs­erves: ‘The Barometer surveys the opinion-forming elite, not large swathes of the British public. While British institutions can draw comfort from the return of trust among the opinion elite, we may be witnessing the beginnings of a significant social fragmentation.'

pie chartAs for the views on Government, it is tempting to believe Gordon Brown taking over power has boosted public trust. But a glance at supplementary research undertaken by StrategyOne earlier this month shows that Brown's personal levels of trust, while possibly better than

Tony Blair's in his final months at Number 10, are far from satisfactory (see pie chart).

Edelman's poll held other surprises. The 35- to 64-year-olds have bec­ome more trusting of energy firms this year - up from 34 per cent to 45 per cent. Phillips thinks this can be attributed to the rise in responsibility and integrity as key factors in driving trust: ‘The
energy sector has been seen to be addressing climate change and developing cleaner, greener solutions.'

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