News Avoidance

In this section we explore the extent to which people find themselves actively avoiding the news. We define this not as total avoidance of news, since our base sample is made up of those who say they use news at least once a month, but rather as those who say they avoid news often or sometimes. The issue of news avoidance is a matter of concern if it means that citizens are not sufficiently equipped to take decisions in elections or referendums. There are also concerns that the abundance of other types of media (e.g. entertainment) may be squeezing exposure to news for less interested news consumers.

On the country level we find considerable variation, with over half the respondents in Greece (57%) and Turkey (57%) avoiding the news, compared with fewer than one in ten in Japan (6%). Countries like Greece and Turkey are undergoing considerable economic and political turmoil, which may be a contributory factor to high levels of avoidance, but it is not easy to identify a clear pattern. On the other hand, we can observe that stable and prosperous Nordic countries tend to have much lower levels of news avoidance (ranging from 14% in Denmark to 20% in Norway).

Around half of our all our respondents (48%) said they avoided news because it had a negative effect on their mood, while almost four in ten (37%) said they did because they feel they cannot rely on the news to be true.

While these two reasons are not mutually exclusive, it is interesting to compare them because they reflect two distinct types: avoidance stemming from the depressing nature of the content itself, and avoidance due to disapproval of the news media more broadly. In Poland, the unreliability (or bias) of news is the most important factor, while in the United States and the United Kingdom we see a much higher level of avoidance due to negative mood (57% and 60%). This may be because a significant proportion of the population in each country feels deeply disenchanted by the Trump victory and Brexit vote respectively.

Looking at political orientation in the US, we can see that the people on the left are more likely than people on the right to avoid news because it has a negative effect on their mood or because they feel that there is not anything they can do about it. However, people on the right in the US are more likely to avoid news because they find it not reliable: 62% of news avoiders on the right cited this as a reason, while only 18% of people on the left did so. This could be connected to the narrative that the mainstream media have a ‘liberal agenda’.

In terms of the demographics, we find that women are much more likely to avoid news than men in most countries. Age does not seem to be a significant factor, evidence that counters the prevailing narrative that young people are turning away from news. In the UK a fifth of men (19%) avoid news but more than a quarter of women (29%). Women in Greece and in Turkey are more likely to avoid news, while in Italy the level of news avoidance is similar amongst males and females.