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Public Confidence in Social Institutions and Media Coverage: A Case of Belarus

Author: 
Yuran, Dzmitry
Committee Members: 
Dr. Peter Gross
Date: 
May 2011

Abstract:  Social scientists agree that public confidence in social institutions is a crucial element in building democratic society. This is especially true for transitional societies including post-communist countries, because the lack of public confidence in newly emerged democratic institutions can interfere with democratic development. Although different theories explaining public confidence in social institutions were developed, these theories ignored the role that mass media play in building public confidence. The goal of this study is to examine the connection between mass media coverage of social institutions and public confidence in these institutions by conducting content analysis of Belarusian newspapers, reviewing the results of the public opinion polls from Belarus, and exploring the links between coverage of social institutions and trust in them. Four institutions were chosen for this examination: two institutions with high level of confidence representing the state (the President, the military) and two institutions with low level of confidence representing civil society (independent labor unions, opposition political parties).

Results showed that there is a noticeable connection between media coverage and public confidence in social institutions. Content analysis demonstrated that the state-run newspapers publish a great number of articles about Belarus President Lukashenko, covering him within the scope of explicitly positive themes. As results of public opinion polls demonstrate, the President enjoys an high level of confidence amongst people who trust state-run Media. On the other hand, independent newspapers present President Lukashenko in a negative different light: he is being depicted as a dictator and an ineffective leader. According to public opinion polls, people who trust the independent media are less confident in the President: more than 42% do have confidence in him. Given that state-run newspapers present the President almost exclusively within positive themes and independent newspapers seldom speak of the President’s achievements, concentrating mostly on his failures and shortcomings, we can see a strong connection between media coverage of the President and levels of public confidence in him. Examining media coverage and public opinion about other social institutions provided similar results, confirming the connection between media coverage and public confidence in this study.