Increasing numbers of Britons are steering clear of the news due to frustration over the coverage of Brexit, according to a new report.
The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism Digital News Report 2019 found that around a third of survey respondents in the UK (35%) were actively avoiding the news – an increase of 11 percentage points since 2017.
The report said 71% of avoiders tried to dodge Brexit news coverage “due to frustration over the intractable and polarising nature” of the political debate.
It also found that 58% of avoiders said the news had a negative impact on their mood, and 40% felt there was nothing they could do to influence events.
People feel that the news has become really... depressing and it brings down their mood. They feel powerless to do anything about it
The new report, published on Wednesday, is based on a YouGov online survey conducted with 75,000 people in 38 countries.
It found that 65% of Remain voters who avoided the news said they did so because of the negative impact on their mood, compared to 47% of Leave voting avoiders feeling the same.
Meanwhile, 41% of Leave voters staying away from coverage did so because they felt unable to rely on it to be true, a sentiment 30% of Remain voting avoiders also shared.
The report’s lead author Nic Newman said: “People feel that the news has become really… depressing and it brings down their mood. They feel powerless to do anything about it.”
Mr Newman said that the high volume of media content could be “confusing and negative” for consumers and left them feeling “bombarded”.
Across the 38 countries represented in the report, an average of 55% of respondents felt concerned about the spread of misinformation.
In the UK, 70% of those surveyed expressed concern about their ability to separate what is real and fake on the internet – a 12 percentage-point increase over the last year and the highest jump out of all countries.
Mr Newman argued there had not been an increase in false news reports in the UK, and suggested the trend could be a result of public attention on the issue.
In February, the House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee published a report on disinformation and fake news.
The MPs’ inquiry followed media coverage of the Facebook and Cambridge Analytica data breach scandal and wider concerns over whether disinformation and voter manipulation had affected elections and the Brexit vote in 2016.
Mr Newman said: “The British media has lead the charge in many ways around that.
“I think that people are concerned partly because the media says they need to be concerned rather than something has actually changed.”
The Reuters Institute report found that overall trust in the news was at 40% in the UK.
Just 22% of respondents had trust in online news searches and 10% trusted news found on social media.
Broadcasters such as the BBC, ITV and Sky received higher trust levels than newspapers and digital only brands.
Mr Newman suggested that the rise of populism in Europe and protest movements such as the yellow vests in France, were also contributing to falling media trust levels.
“It’s not just Brexit, it’s a wave of concern about people being left behind, all these sort of issues, concerns, about the complexity of the modern world,” he said.
One consequence was “a greater awareness and affinity with trusted news brands”, the report found.
The trend is particularly notable among educated younger UK consumers with 39% of those aged 18 to 24, and 36% people aged 25 to 34, saying they had started using more “reputable” news sources – a subjective term left to respondents to determine.
Mr Newman said: “Choice is great and having these news services is great, but you need to know where they are coming from, whether they have an opinion, and making your own choices.
“People are thinking more before sharing stuff that may be untrue,” he added.
The report found that in the UK 9% of respondents paid for online news, 27% shared news via social media, messaging or email and 19% commented on news items online.
A total of 21% of people said they had listened to podcasts in the last month.
Under 35-year-olds consumed half of all podcasts despite making up around a third of the total adult population, the report found.
Mr Newman said: “Our research shows that the core appeal of podcasts is the ease of use, and the ability to listen while doing something else.
“But for younger users, they also provide more authentic voices and the control and choice they’ve become used to.”