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April 9, 2020updated 30 Sep 2022 9:09am

More people turning to national media during Covid-19 lockdown, Ofcom research shows

By Charlotte Tobitt

People are increasingly turning to national news media during the UK coronavirus lockdown, according to new Ofcom research.

Two-thirds of people surveyed say they used national media outlets more during the first week of lockdown than before the outbreak began, while just over a third are using local news sources more often.

This increased awareness of the news media comes as some are being forced to furlough staff and suspend publication as advertising revenues disappear and the distribution and sales supply chain is challenged.

Ofcom has commissioned a weekly survey of 2,000 people to monitor how people are getting news and information about the ongoing crisis, with the first set of research from 27 to 29 March published today.

Despite the boost in media usage, 22 per cent of people told the survey they were “trying to avoid news about coronavirus” while 17 per cent agreed that the “mainstream media is exaggerating the serious of Covid-19”.

The survey found that the BBC was the most-used source for news and information about Covid-19, with 82 per cent of people using it compared to 56 per cent using other broadcasters and 43 per cent using the online or printed press.

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The BBC’s TV services were seen as the most important source by more than a third of people (36 per cent) overall and by 29 per cent of 18 to 24-year-olds. BBC online was the most important source for 12 per cent of people, with the same figure valuing non-BBC broadcasters the highest.

Press Gazette reported yesterday how UK broadcasters are reaching record audiences, with the BBC reaching more than 20m people a week across its evening news bulletins at 6pm and 10pm.

They are also highly trusted, with 83 per cent of people trusting both the BBC and Channel 4, 82 per cent trusting ITV, and 75 per cent trusting Sky.

Yih-Choung Teh, Ofcom’s group director for strategy and research, said the research showed people were turning to public authorities and traditional broadcasters for trusted information on Covid-19.

“With so much false information circulating online, it’s never been more important that people can cut through the confusion and find accurate, trustworthy and credible sources of news and advice,” he said.

Nearly half of those who took part in the survey said they had come across false or misleading information about Covid-19 in the first week of the UK’s lockdown, with two-thirds of those saying they had seen it at least once a day.

Just over half (55 per cent) did nothing about it, but 15 per cent used tips from the media, such as the BBC website, and ten per cent checked it with a fact-checking resource.

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden spoke to Facebook, Twitter and Google yesterday to discuss how they could clamp down further on content, as a range of false claims about the virus continue to spread online.

Ofcom said the claim that drinking lots of water can flush out the virus had been the most common piece of misinformation in the first week of the lockdown, with 35 per cent reporting seeing it.

Claims that gargling with saltwater or eating warm food/drink and avoiding cold food/drink could fight off the virus were each seen by a quarter of people.

The Center for Countering Digital Hate has said social media companies should introduce straightforward ways for users to report false claims on their platforms “to help everyone play a part in tackling the social contagion of coronavirus misinformation”.

Whatsapp has this week introduced a limit on forwarding messages so that they can only be forwarded to one chat group at a time in the hope this slows the spread of misinformation.

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