KUALA LUMPUR, May 26 – National health authorities suffered the biggest decline in trust by Malaysians, according to the 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer, falling to third place from being the most trusted institution last year.
The annual trust and credibility survey by global communications firm Edelman showed a five percentage point drop from the 2021 poll in trust in national health authorities – the biggest decrease among all groups – to 72 per cent of respondents in this year’s survey expressing trust.
Scientists were the most trusted in Malaysia this year with 74 per cent of respondents, a two point bump from 2021, followed by one’s coworkers (73 per cent), national health authorities (72 per cent), one’s CEO (69 per cent), people in one’s local community (67 per cent), Malaysian citizens (65 per cent), and CEOs in general (61 per cent).
Edelman’s 2022 survey, with approximately 1,150 participants in Malaysia, showed that Malaysians distrust government leaders and journalists. Only half of respondents (51 per cent) trusted government leaders, a drop of two points from 2021. About 56 per cent trusted journalists, five points higher from last year’s survey.
Edelman’s survey – which was conducted mid-October to mid-November 2021 as Malaysia’s Covid-19 epidemic declined – defines a particular entity as trusted when 60 per cent or more of the population rate it as six, seven, eight, or nine on a nine-point scale.
“An interesting observation is a decrease of trust in national health authorities, who were the most trusted leaders last year,” Edelman Malaysia group director Christopher Ross de Cruz told a virtual briefing session yesterday at the Malaysia launch of the 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer.
“This shows a growing concern from the rakyat on the changing [Covid-19] SOPs (standard operating procedures) and vaccination processes. In fact, there’s an increasing agreement that leaders are deliberately lying to us.”
More than seven in 10 respondents believed that Malaysian government leaders (76 per cent), journalists and reporters (74 per cent), and business leaders (72 per cent) deliberately lied and purposely misled people by saying things they knew were false or gross exaggerations.
Edelman reported a two-digit percentage point increase across the board this year compared to 2021 – government leaders (11 points), journalists and reporters (10 points), as well as business leaders (12 points) – in respondents’ belief that these groups were lying to the public.
Astro Awani senior anchor Sharaad Kuttan, who noted the lack of investments in Malaysian health care, pointed out that the media sometimes failed to critically analyse issues or statements, including the Covid-19 pandemic.
“A lot of people like to talk about ICU (intensive care unit) beds, percentage of ICU beds, but do we have, in fact, the optimal number of ICU beds? That’s something that the media did not ask,” Sharaad told a forum organised by Edelman Malaysia to discuss the Trust Barometer.
“The media failed to ask a lot of questions that are critical of long-term trends in poor governance in this country. Seriously, poor governance.”
The senior journalist was asked about local media that are purportedly uncritical in reporting and analysing and interpreting information, including government statements and data.
Sharaad said: “There are certain narratives that are constructed in order to highlight some information and to hide other information and when you don’t have a media system that’s vibrant, that allows the dissenting views, then you don’t have that robust [system] coming together.”
Media And Government Least Trusted
The 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer showed that the media and government are the least trusted entities by Malaysians, compared to businesses and non-government organisations (NGOs).
Although all institutions in Malaysia were still in the trusted region, the media and government barely held on at 60 per cent and 62 per cent respectively, compared to businesses (71 per cent), and NGOs (70 per cent).
Entities with an average score of 50 per cent and below are classified as distrusted, while those with an average of 50 to 59 per cent are considered in the neutral category.
Trust in the government and media saw a three- and two-point decrease respectively from last year.
Malaysia scored poorer in press freedom this year, classified as “problematic”, according to Reporters Without Borders’ 2022 World Press Freedom Index, although Malaysia’s ranking climbed to 113 of 180 countries compared to 119th position in 2021.
“Although the government experienced the highest profit trust among the institutions in Malaysia over the course of last year, Malaysians experienced a Parliament suspension and a change in government leadership,” de Cruz said.
“Malaysians also spearheaded several rakyat-led initiatives, such as the Bendera Putih movement, with all of which have led the people to perceive the government as unstable and divisive,” he added, referring to the movement at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic last year that saw hungry Malaysians rallying for assistance from fellow citizens during tough lockdowns.
Government Seen As Divisive, Not Able To Solve Societal Problems
In the 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer, Malaysians saw the government as a dividing rather than unifying force in the country, with 43 per cent of respondents perceiving the State as divisive versus 42 per cent who believed that the government was uniting Malaysian society.
The media, businesses, and NGOs were all perceived as being more unifying than divisive, at 44 per cent, 50 per cent, and 54 per cent of respondents respectively.
The difference in the proportion of respondents who perceived a particular institution as a dividing versus unifying force in Malaysian society was the biggest for NGOs at 27 points and businesses at 22 points.
“When asked if each institution was viewed as dividing or a unifying force in society, we saw that governments are more likely to be seen as divisive,” de Cruz said.
“Meanwhile, to put it plainly, our government is seen as not being able to get things done. It is the worst performing institution, with the majority not seeing it as competent enough to take a leadership role in solving societal problems or to successfully get results.”
Edelman’s Trust Barometer also revealed that the majority of respondents did not see the government as having the ability to solve problems in society.
Only 42 per cent of respondents believed the government could take a leadership role in coordinating cross-institutional efforts to solve societal problems, while 44 per cent believed the government could successfully execute plans and strategies that yield results.
The media also fared poorly in perception of its ability to solve societal problems at 44 per cent who believed the press could take leadership and 51 per cent who perceived the media as being able to get results.
Businesses and NGOs were perceived as having greater ability in this regard, compared to the media and government.
“2021 was a tumultuous year for the government. Within the span of the year the government enforced a seven-month Parliament’s suspension from January to August 2021, followed by a change of leadership, giving us our third Prime Minister within the span of four years,” de Cruz said.
“This further fueled the cycle of distrust in Malaysia and her political institutions.”
Different Government Administrations Have Different Approaches To Media
Sharaad claimed that media platforms, including state-based outlets and media owned by private corporations, have become a conduit for government propaganda, rather than having an open conversation about issues.
“I think the authoritarian default in Malaysia leads many governments to often clamp down on a piece of information, clamp down on the media and get the media to work for them,” he said.
Sharaad pointed out that the media in this country has been crippled by a lack of legislation that ensures the rights of the media to tell open stories or to get information.
“The right to information, free information coming from government sources, prevents us from doing investigative journalism.
“So whatever the aspirations of individual media organisations might be, they are still hamstrung by the way in which government policy around the media is shaped and unfortunately, it’s been a very schizophrenic situation for much of the media over the last couple of years, in the sense that depending on which prime minister and press secretary they had, you have a very different attitude towards media.”
Sharaad highlighted the importance of good corporate leadership within media organisations to provide the needed freedom for journalists and to be their pillars of strength to provide good quality information.
“Media business owners also have to take it upon themselves in terms of freedom. If they don’t do that, and we all know, in journalism, the value of having a great boss; a boss who stands behind you, and allows you to do the kind of journalism you want to do.
“There are many bosses, immediate bosses in this country don’t demonstrate that. There are, in fact, who lack courage and who are rather cosy up to those in power, including the corporate bigwigs.”
A Decline In Optimism For Western-Style Democracies
Malaysia’s position in Edelman’s Trust Index was the same for 2022 as last year, remaining as a trusted nation at an average of 66 per cent who trust NGOs, business, government, and the media in the country.
“China, which has taken a different approach in its handling of the Covid-19 pandemic has been rewarded with an 11 point increase in trust,” de Cruz said.
China accelerated to 83 points in 2022 from 72 points in 2021.
Trust in Germany, one of the biggest democracies and economies in the world, fell in 2022, joining the United Kingdom and the United States.
From 53 per cent trust in 2021, Germany fell to 46 per cent in 2022, whereas the UK and the US obtained 44 per cent and 43 per cent trust respectively. The US trust index declined 10 points since 2017 to 43 per cent trust this year.
All of these Western democracies were distrusted by their citizens. People from the majority of developed countries felt that their economic future will not be better in five years’ time, except the UK, Spain and South Korea.