Who Trusts State-Run Media? Source Cues, Bias, and Credibility in Non-Democracies
87 Pages Posted:
Date Written: September 24, 2020
Scholars of politics and media have long debated whether citizens of non-democracies trust pro-government media and recognize their bias. I argue that state-controlled media can indeed command trust, and that one explanation for this trust is partisan affinity for like-minded content. I design a novel experiment, situated in Russia, to study whether partisanship affects trust in state-controlled and independent media. I also surveyed Russian respondents on media preferences and evaluations of state-run and independent news organizations. I find that government supporters use and trust state-run media more than government critics, whereas critics use and trust independent media more. These results help us to understand how contemporary autocrats build support, showing that authoritarian governments can intervene in media industries and sustain long-term disinformation campaigns without seriously undermining the reputation of their propaganda outlets. Independent media, in contrast, often pose a smaller threat to autocrats, because many loyalists are disinclined to use or trust these media.
Keywords: autocracy, media, propaganda, media trust
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