Mass media globalization is a phenomenon almost as old as mass communication itself, starting in the beginning of the 20th century as movies, radio shows and later television programs became profitable cultural products, easily exportable to international audiences. It accelerated in the 1980s and 1990s, as technological advances such as satellite telecommunications became a reality, allowing audiences to share those cultural artifacts in real time. The Internet and social media further demolished all geographical and chronological barriers, allowing even the most distant and isolated communities to share globalized media experiences (as long as they have access to electricity, connectivity, and the proper hardware, which is by no means guaranteed, even as those become cheaper and more widespread.) Interest in the effect that mass media exposure has on traditional communities also started almost as soon as mass media itself became an international phenomenon. It soon became apparent to anthropologists, sociologists, and fledging mass communication researchers that exposure to mass media was, at a minimum, influencing (if not disrupting) traditional ways of life. What followed in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s was a flurry of Frankfurt School–inspired studies that mainly focused on the negative aspects of that influence. Terms such as cultural imperialism and cultural hegemony were widely used to define that process, as researchers worried that ancient traditions and ways of life were seriously threatened by the culture industry. With the growth of cultural studies in the 1970s and 1980s, the critique became much more complex and nuanced, as scholars such as James Clifford and Stuart Hall (heavily indebted to French philosophers such as Michel Foucault, Felix Guattari and Jacques Derrida) started to talk about culture as being polysomic and formed by “seriously contested codes and representations” (Clifford, 1988). The field of intercultural communication has also dissected (with varying degrees of success) the complex ways in which cultures and cultural groups come to influence each other, once they start interacting.

Instead of focusing only on the negative aspects of that interaction, more recent studies have also focused on the way mass media may empower communities to seek agency and self-determination (Martín-Barbero, 1993; Reis, 1998). As media production technology becomes cheaper and more readily available, researchers have paid more attention to how previously disenfranchised communities develop their own communication systems, using mass media not only to communicate, but also to advance their own agendas. More recently, researchers have turned their attention to the Internet, social media and micro–blogging, asking, for example, how Brazilian favela residents engage with social media and if we should look at their social media engagement as another form of empowerment. This thematic issue of Media and Communication lands within this historical backdrop, pushing against its current disciplinary boundaries. In “Media Portrayals of Hashtag Activism: A Framing Analysis of Canada’s #IdleNoMore Movement,” Derek Moscato examines the confluence of activism and social media, using framing theory to analyze how two prominent Canadian publications portrayed the #IdleNoMore social media campaign initiated by Canada’s First Nations communities. No longer at the recipient end of the traditional mass media flowchart, Aboriginal communities are turning the tables, and engaging with social media in a way that inserts their demands and concerns right in the middle of the political arena. As he discusses in his article, from Tunisia to Canada, micro–blogging has been a particularly effective way to organize and give voice to politically disenfranchised communities. Through framing analysis, Moscato has found that the reaction to hashtag activism by traditional media has been mixed, allowing national circulation publications to highlight or give voice to indigenous demands, while at the same time admonishing against possible escalation of political confrontation.

From Canada we move south to Brazil, where Laura Graham sets her sights on the A’uwẽ-Xavante indigenous communities of Mato Gross state and their use of audio–visual technologies. What started as the communities’ attempt to preserve and disseminate their own rites and ceremonies (mainly as teaching tools and historical artifacts), has evolved to allow the A’uwẽXavante peoples to exert greater control over how they are presented and represented, in a process that Graham describes as “representational sovereignty.” As a rebuke to the idea of a “Faustian contract,” whereupon indigenous communities’ use of modern technologies would inevitably compromise their purity, Graham argues that the A’uwẽ-Xavante’s use of audiovisual technologies is one of many recent examples of indigenous communities turning self-produced cultural artifacts into “powerful instruments for the creative expression of identity, self-reflection, political empowerment, cultural transmission, and the preservation of traditional knowledge.” Finally, in a beautifully written and powerful commentary, Richard Meadows traces the history of how communication networks have been used by Australian Aboriginals for hundreds of years, pre–dating the European occupation of the continent. As European vessels moved along the Australian coastline, Aboriginal “runners” moving through inland tracks kept informed a complex maze of Aboriginal nations speaking upwards of 250 languages. As more and more Aboriginal Australians embrace community-produced radio and television, even fostering a creative national alliance, Richard Meadows decries the lack of a national Indigenous media policy, formally recognizing (and preserving) the importance of Aboriginal languages and cultures.

As we move towards a world that will make media and social media engagement as inevitable for traditional communities as breathing or eating, it is imperative that, as anthropologists and mass communication researchers, we discuss, examine and study the powerful ways in which new technologies influence those groups, including the creative (and political) ways in which those groups themselves are producing and engaging with media. The articles in this new thematic issue make an important step toward that goal.

How (news) media trust at the different levels of analysis are related to each other remains unclear, and is hence an important research problem that should be addressed in future research. Equally important is to be clear about what level of analysis (news) media trust refers to. Towards that end, i we propose a framework for conceptualizing (news) media trust at different levels of analysis. The starting point for this framework is the individual users, the trustors. At the very bottom we have placed news media content. This refers to the news stories that individual users, in the most concrete terms, are exposed to when using different media. In terms of measurements, this level could refer to ‘news from’ the news media when covering different topics. Climbing up the ladder of abstraction, we have placed trust in journalists, as they are the ones closest to the production of the news that the media report. These are also quite visible to users and hence quite concrete. Journalists are in turn nested within different media organizations and outlets, which we refer to as individual media brands in the figure. These, in turn, belong to different types of media, such as television or newspapers. This level corresponds to the institutional level.

Then, at the highest level of abstraction, we have placed news media in general. It is a deliberate choice to here talk about news media rather than media in general, as the diversity of the latter category makes it close to meaningless in terms of measuring trust. The arrows at each side run in both directions, to illustrate that trust at one level of analysis might influence trust at a higher or lower level of analysis, although to date there is insufficient research to know if, and if so how or to what extent, trust at different levels of analysis influences trust at another level. Another important aspect is related to what is meant by trust, aside from the broader notion that media trust refers to the relationship between citizens (the trustors) and the media (the trustees) where citizens, in situations of uncertainty, expect that interactions with the news media will lead to gains rather than losses. One key problem in previous research is that the measures used often leave the meaning of trust unspecified, which leaves it to respondents to interpret the concept of trust. In extension, this means that respondents might have quite different things in mind when responding to the very same questions of media trust.

To the extent that trust is specified, the focus is usually on the objects of trust. While specifications are preferable compared to leaving the meaning of trust unspecified, as they narrow down the degree of freedom when interpreting the questions, there are however important conceptual differences between, for example, ‘the people running’ media institutions and ‘reporting the news fully, accurately and fairly.’ The end result is not only that results are quite hard to interpret in substantial terms – as we do not know what people mean when responding that they trust or do not trust media at different levels of analysis – but also insufficient comparability across studies and hence cumulatively of findings .In order to increase conceptual clarity, comparability across studies, cumulatively of findings, and our understanding of how news media trust matters both in general and for people’s news media use, what is needed is a specification of news media trust that both (a) stays close to the broader definition of trust and (b) the specific nature and function of news media in democratic societies. From that perspective, it follows that the focus should be on trust not in media as institutions or in the people running media institutions, but trust in the information coming from news media at different levels of analysis. There are several reasons why this should be the focus. First, a key democratic function of news media is to provide people with the kind of information they need to ‘be free and self-governing’ (Kovach & Rosenstiel, 2014, p. 12; McQuail, 1992; Patterson, 2013; Strömbäck, 2005). That presupposes that the information provided corresponds to reality and is factually verified. Hence, Kovach and Rosenstiel call journalism ‘a discipline of verification,’ which ultimately is what sets journalism apart from other types of media content such as, for example, entertainment, propaganda, or art (Kovach & Rosenstiel, 2014, Second, within the journalistic community, providing factual and reliable information to the public is generally thought of as the most important role of journalism (Hanitzsch et al., 2011; Weaver & Willnat, 2012).

Thus, focusing on trust in the information reported by news media at different levels of analysis offers a way of investigating the extent to which news media is perceived as living up to its ideals according both to democratic theory and the journalistic community at large. Third, accepting the veracity of the information is the risk people take when they consume news. When people act upon this information in their daily lives (when voting, buying or selling stocks, planning trips etc.) they risk taking the wrong decision, and this risk is the most central element in the definition of trust (Coleman, 1990; Gambetta, 1988; Mayer et al., 1995). Fourth, it is no coincidence that political actors and non-mainstream or partisan media that attack traditional news media for delivering ‘fake news’ or otherwise seek to undermine the legitimacy of traditional news media focus on the trustworthiness of the information coming from traditional news media (Benkler et al., 2018; Egelhofer & Lecheler, 2019; Jamieson & Cappella, 2008). That illustrates that what matters is ultimately not the other roles of news media as institutions or organizations but the information coming from these. Fifth, virtually all research on news media trust and news media credibility in fact shares an understanding that what matters is trust in the information coming from news media (Gaziano & McGrath, 1986; Kohring & Matthes, 2007; Ladd, 2012; Tsfati & Cappella, 2003; Yale et al., 2015), although that is not always sufficiently mirrored in the measurements used. Beyond these normative and logical reasons, the most important reason for the proposed focus on information is theoretical. The theory connecting trust in media and news use assumes (Tsfati & Cappella, 2003, Assumption 2, p. 508) that the main motivation for spending time and energy on news consumption is the necessity of acquiring information about the non-immediate environment. While this information does not have to be full or fully accurate, it is required for adjusting our behavior to changes in the environment in order to reach our goals. As information is at the core of the trustnews-use theoretical proposition, its incorporation into the measurement of the theory’s main construct is required. Based on this, we propose that basically all measures of trust in news media should specify that what matters is people’s trust in the information coming from news media, regardless of the level of analysis. More specifically, in Table 1 we offer our proposed specified measures of trust in the information coming from news media at each level of analysis. Of course, oftentimes when not having to rely on secondary data, it is more appropriate to use multiple items to measure trust, and use those to build a composite trust scale. As discussed above, in previous research a number of different multidimensional scales, made up of more or less different measures, have been proposed and in some cases validated (Abdulla et al., 2004; Gaziano & McGrath, 1986; Kohring & Matthes, 2007; Meyer, 1988; West, 1994). As shown by recent studies (Prochazka & Schweiger, 2019; Yale et al., 2015), it has however been difficult to establish with sufficient discriminant validity that news media trust consists of several different sub dimensions. Yale et al. (2015) thus note that ‘people seem to evaluate news credibility more heuristically’ and recommend that any scale should be treated as a single-factor measure when used as a variable . Similarly, Prochazka and Schweiger (2019) note that ‘the current path in trust and credibility research to find underlying factor structures of the concepts might be partly misleading.


During my research, I examined Hungary’s media-guided democracy and read different ideas about populism and how it could be solved. I found that democracy has some serious faults, which have become worse since the empowerment of media. Universal suffrage gives power to the uninformed and ignorant people, to whom, through the television and the internet, it is very easy to send misguiding messages. In Hungary, since Orbán attacked the media, his power has been becoming stronger, and stronger and nobody knows where it would stop. Of course, there are other reasons too, media is just one of them, but those factors should be discussed in another research. In my introduction, I questioned if liberal democracy is sustainable in this media-led era, and I have to say, what I found rather shows that it is not. Philosophers have some ideas on how to solve this problem, but it would be very hard to test them, and before that happened, we don’t have any idea if they would be better than democracy. After looking at these epistocratic regimes and thinking about them in my opinion it would worth to spend time and money on testing them, maybe on smaller communities or cities. Some of them could be really helpful to improve our societies and experiments could show the faults that no-one thought about before. Also, it would be beneficial to think about the problem of poverty in our democracies and find a regime that would help that problem too. Another thing would be useful is to change some things in our educational systems, and if once people have the right to vote, teach them how to handle this power and encourage them to use it.


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