Trust in search engines and traditional media is on the rise as trusted sources of information in Malaysia, with a four-point and nine-point increase to 68% and 66% respectively, the 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer said. Meanwhile, the government and media were near the neutral threshold, sitting at 62 and 60 points respectively. Trust in government saw a three-point dip while trust in media dropped by two points.

Businesses and NGOs are the most trusted institutions in Malaysia, with trust in businesses increasing by two points to 71% while NGOs saw a one-point increase to 70%. Meanwhile, all Malaysian institutions fell under the trusted region (above 59 points).

The trust barometer found both businesses and NGOs to be viewed as competent and ethical compared to media and government. A third of Malaysians said that businesses are "highly effective agents of positive change" while 42% of Malaysians said the same for NGOs. Malaysians continue to trust their employer above all other institutions, at 79% compared to 71% for businesses, 70% of NGOs, 62% for government, and 60% for media.

CEOs are expected to be the face of change with 78% of Malaysians saying that CEOs should be personally visible when discussing public policy with external stakeholders or the work their company has done to benefit society.

Malaysians expect CEOs to help inform and shape conversations and policy debates on a range of issues ranging from jobs/economy, wage inequality, and technology to automation, but not on politics. This is similar to the expectations Malaysians had of CEOs in 2021, where 71% of them expected CEOs to lead with empathy in driving positive change and demonstrating accountability to the communities they serve.

That said, Malaysians said businesses were not doing enough on addressing societal issues such as economic inequality, systemic injustice, and climate change, among others. The public wants more, not less business engagement on these topics, with a more than 20-point gap on every societal issue questioned.

The cycle of distrust among Malaysians

In Malaysia, six in 10 have said that their default tendency is to distrust something until they have solid proof that it is trustworthy. In line with the global trend, 64% of Malaysians think the country is polarised to the point where people are unable to have a constructive and civil debate with their peers who hold opposing views.

When asked if any of the core institutions were seen either as a unifying force or a divisive one, Malaysians viewed the government as a divisive force with a one-point difference. Nearly 43% of Malaysians see the government as a dividing force in society, compared to 42% of Malaysians who view the government as a unifying force.

Societal fears are also on the rise in Malaysia, with job loss and climate change being cited as the top two societal fears, increasing by five points to 94% and 81% respectively. Malaysians also worry about their freedoms as citizens being eroded recording a nine-point increase compared to 2021 at 80%, while fears of experiencing prejudice and racism also increased up by 11 points to 76%.

At the same time, Malaysians are highly concerned that fake news and false information are being used as a weapon against them. 83% of Malaysians are concerned about fake news, as shown by a seven-point increase from last year’s findings. Malaysia now ranks the second-highest alongside Indonesia as among those most concerned with fake news.

According to Edelman, restoring trust in Malaysia’s institutions, as well as continuing to improve the trust within leading institutions such as businesses and NGOs are key to societal stability.

Christopher de Cruz, group director of Edelman Malaysia, said as Malaysians want more leadership from businesses, not less, the industry needs to appreciate the fact that businesses are no longer just profit-driven organisations and their societal role is here to stay.

"They must accept the responsibility of filling the void left by the government. Simply leading a business is not enough, there is an expectation for CEOs and other business leaders to speak on issues that impact the communities they operate in," de Cruz explained.

He added that all institutions need to demonstrate tangible progress to restore the belief in society’s ability to build a better future.
"Malaysians will expect leaders to focus on long-term thinking with an emphasis on providing solutions over divisiveness. Lastly, with fake news being high on Malaysian’s concerns, every institution must provide clear, consistent and fact-based information to break the cycle of distrust," de Cruz said.

Photo courtesy: 123RF

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