The current coronavirus pandemic has provided many news outlets with record audiences, as citizens around the world turn to the media for information about their government’s latest lockdown announcements. As part of our research in May on the impact of the coronavirus crisis on European public opinion, we at Redfield & Wilton Strategies asked German, French and Italian respondents about their consumption of news during the pandemic.
We found that a strong majority of respondents in both Germany (84%), Italy (75%) and France (66%) considered themselves to be at least moderately informed about news in other European countries.
Likewise, a majority of respondents across all three countries say they are now more interested in news from other European countries than they were before the coronavirus pandemic. As countries across Europe were at different stages of the pandemic, information about other countries’ experiences gave citizens a sense of what lay ahead. In particular, as the first European region to impose a lockdown, Northern Italy was deemed to be roughly two weeks ahead of its European neighbours.
Similarly, European-wide news gave individuals a point of comparison to assess their own government’s response to the crisis. Germany’s relatively low death toll, for instance, brought attention to its mass-testing policy. Likewise, Sweden’s decision not to impose a full lockdown prompted many to wonder whether the “Stockholm model” of herd immunity was in fact the best course of action.
Our findings indicate that a majority of German (52%) and a plurality of Italian (49%) respondents believe that the media has accurately reported the threat posed by the coronavirus to the public, thus causing the right amount of concern.
However, it is worth noting that in both Germany (33%) and France (33%), roughly one in three respondents felt that the media has exaggerated the threat of the coronavirus to the public and caused unnecessary panic.
On the topic of public attitudes towards government communication during the crisis, we found that German and Italian respondents overwhelmingly had a positive view of how their governments reported information about the coronavirus crisis. Indeed, 64% of German respondents and 57% of Italian respondents said their government had accurately conveyed the threat of the coronavirus to the public and caused the right amount of concern.
France, by contrast, stands out. A plurality of French respondents replied that Paris has not emphasized the threat of the coronavirus to the public enough and had therefore made the public complacent. Only 35% of French respondents had a positive view of their government’s communication during the crisis.
Less than half the respondents in Germany (45%), France (44%), and Italy (47%) stated that finding informative, impartial news about events in other European countries was “easy.” Conversely, 15% of German respondents, 16% of Italian and 23% of French answered that it was difficult to find informative and impartial news.
Overall, our findings indicate that interest in both local and European-wide news has increased in the midst of the coronavirus crisis, with the majority of German, French, and Italian respondents approving of the way the media has reported on the crisis. However, less than half the respondents in the three countries answering that they find it easy to find informative and impartial news from other European countries, suggesting that there is room for more reporting across the continent.