Our commercial media have struggled to regain trust with Australians, while the ABC remains far ahead.
Australia’s mainstream media have drifted still lower in public trust in the last six months, according to Essential Research’s biannual Trust in Media survey.
Asked how much trust they have in what they see and hear from the media, less than half of respondents have “a lot” or “some” trust in daily newspapers, with 48% saying they did, down from 52% in June last year, the worst result since December 2011, when only 46% said they trusted newspapers.
Worse, the number of respondents saying they had “no trust at all” in newspapers has hit a new high of 15%. In 2010, it was only 5%.
Commercial television news and current affairs has also dropped in trust, from 46% to 44%, reversing a slight recovery in the first half of 2011. Commercial radio news and current affairs picked up a point to 46%; after repeated debacles involving Sydney’s Alan Jones, commercial talkback achieved the improbable feat of becoming even less trusted, down to 32%. 28% of respondents have “no trust at all” in what they hear from talkback radio.
That was well behind news and opinion websites, which stayed level at 40%; blogs lifted 3 points to 23%, and were the only medium that challenged talkback for lack of credibility, with 29% saying they had “no trust at all” in what they saw on blogs.
Individual newspapers had varying fortunes. The Australian has lifted its trust level amongst readers to 65%, after falling to 60% in Jun 2012; it is thus on its way to recovering the level of trust it scored when Essential first asked about individual mastheads in July 2011, of 69%. The Age has slumped 5 points to 71% among its readers, but still remains along with the Sydney Morning Herald (up 2 points to 71%) the most trusted masthead in the country. The Herald Sun fell a point to 50% — with a remarkable 20% of respondents saying they had “no trust at all” in the paper, up 5 points since June. But despite a similar rise in the number of readers saying they had “no trust at all” in the Courier-Mail, that newspaper lifted 6 points in trust to 57%.
And the Daily Telegraph has easily retained its title as Australia’s least-trusted major newspaper, down a point to 48%.
In contrast to previous trust in media surveys, differences across demographics are less pronounced. Women are a little more trusting of media outlets than men; younger people are less trusting of electronic media than older people, but some of the marked difference across age groups, in particular, in attitudes to media are less notable this time.
But one consistent characteristic is that different voters are sceptical about different media, Liberal voters tend to be more trusting of commercial media, while Labor and Greens voters are more trusting of the ABC — although that might be less about perceptions of partisan coverage than the fact that higher income earners are more likely to say they don’t use ABC services. But even Liberal voters are far more trusting of the national broadcaster than of commercial media.
Unsurprisingly, Liberal voters also appear more trusting of right-wing newspapers: 54% of Liberal voters trust what they read in The Australian, compared to 48% of Labor voters and 37% of Greens voters, and also trust The Daily Telegraph more, although these are all small sample sizes so the results should be treated very cautiously.
Overall, the ABC has maintained its reputation for trust with users. Its television news was down a point compared to June last year, and its radio news up a point, but ultimately it remains far ahead of commercial media of all stripes in terms of the trust Australians place in what they see and hear on it, and not just for one section of the electorate, but across all voters.