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News avoidance increases in difficult times

News fatigue: which countries block their ears to bad news?

Reports on Russia’s war in Ukraine has meant more people avoid news reports that worry them. An increasing percentage of people avoid reading the news after two years of depressing reports about the pandemic, according to earlier reports. With Russia’s war against Ukraine, there are some evidence of accelerating news avoidance across several countries possibly given the difficult and at times traumatic nature of war coverage, Reuters Institute at Oxford University says in a new report.

News avoidance is up 7 percentage point in Germany. “And while short-term news behaviours and attitudes have appeared to change in Poland – with increased news use and interest in the country closest to the conflict – even a story as newsworthy and significant as the war in Ukraine has not reversed declining levels of news interest in most countries.”

The report says that given earlier findings that younger and less educated news audiences think news reports are hard to understand, clear ‘explainers’ and contextualisation of the Russia–Ukraine conflict, may draw in a segment of news avoiders who simply want clearer, more relevant information, the report concludes.

“People largely do not feel as positively about news organisations providing a different range of perspectives on the conflict. However, as the invasion continues, and as new atrocities occur daily, providing alternative perspectives is unlikely to be seen by journalists as the most pressing task.”

The Institute commissioned YouGov to make the survey of how people read news about the war in Brazil, Germany, Poland, the UK, and the US with about 1 000 respondents in each country.

The Institute’s annual Digital News Report has earlier shown that the proportion of news consumers who say they avoid news, often or sometimes, has increased sharply across countries. This type of selective avoidance has doubled in both Brazil (54%) and the UK (46%) over the last five years, with many respondents saying news has a negative effect on their mood.

Read Also:  News fatigue is a global challenge for news media

“Although the conflict has global consequences, attention is highest in Germany, which is both geographically close to the conflict and where the effects are already filtering down to the lives of ordinary people – for example, in terms of energy prices. In Brazil, which is politically and geographically farther from the conflict, around 40% are not following it closely.”

In countries like Brazil and Germany, the proportion of 18–24s not following the conflict at all is particularly high compared with other age groups. And in the US and UK, women are slightly more likely than men to not be paying close attention to the war.

“As we have seen with other major world events, people turn more to TV news at times of crisis.”

For the war in Ukraine, television tops the list for three of the five countries – with the most attention to TV news on the conflict spread out geographically, from Germany (46%) and Brazil (44%). In the US and Poland, online news sites, non-mainstream sites, and social media combined account for a larger share – but TV is still the most widely used individual source for news about the conflict.

In the UK, 55% of those 55 or older, but only 13% of 18–24s, pay most attention to TV news on war. And nearly eight times as many 18–24s (15%) are paying the most attention to social media news on the war as those 55 and older (2%).

While TV is especially dominant for information about the conflict in countries like Germany, social media are a particularly important source in Brazil, with 23% of people paying the most attention to these platforms for related information.

In Germany, Poland, and the US, the proportion who say they sometimes or often actively avoid the news has increased. The biggest increase of all was in Germany (+7pp), but significant increases can also be seen in Poland (+6pp) and the US (+4pp).

“To put some of these changes in context, the increase of 7pp in Germany in just two months is larger than the 5pp increase we saw in the five years from 2017 to 2022. We know that one of the main reasons people avoid the news is because of the negative effect it has on their mood, so it would be unsurprising if the deeply depressing and concerning nature of conflict has caused more people to turn away from it”, the report says.

“In the UK and Brazil, where news avoidance was already high, we do not see evidence of a further increase – but it is equally important to note that it has not decreased either. Furthermore, in these two countries, news avoidance has already increased markedly in recent years – by 11pp from 2019 to 2022 in the case of the UK, and by 20pp in Brazil.”

“Despite the increase in news avoidance, the proportion who say they access news several times a day increased in Poland by 6pp.”

“In Poland, around 40% of people who accessed news several times a day during the conflict also say they sometimes or often actively avoid the news. The proportion who accessed the news several times a day fell by 6pp in Brazil and 4pp in Germany, and remained stable elsewhere.”

The news media are broadly seen to be doing a good job with coverage, especially on keeping people up to date on the latest news but in general, they feel the media have not performed quite as well for explaining the wider implications of the conflict or providing a different range of perspectives on it, the report concludes.


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