Whatever it is that has upset people about the commercial media in Australia sure has done an effective job.

Yesterday’s Essential Report polling carried a series of questions about trust in media, most of which were asked previously in March 2010 (not March this year as I wrote in yesterday’s edition — for which, my apologies). They showed a marked slump in trust in the commercial media, while the ABC kept or improved its levels of trustworthiness.

Delving into the data reveals some aspects of the collapse in trust. First, it’s comprehensive — across ages, income levels, location, voting intention, the lot. It’s even across usage: even young people, only 15% of whom read a newspaper daily, now trust newspapers less than they did in March last year.

Second, it appears to be driven by very strong views about the media. What’s surprising in comparing the data from March 2010 and now is that there hasn’t been a big shift between people saying they have “some trust” in commercial media and “a little trust” — there’s been some of that, but the big change is a lot more people saying they have no trust at all in commercial media.

Take commercial television news and current affairs: in March 2010, 5% of voters said they had no trust at all in it. That’s now 17% (18-24 year olds went from 4% saying they had no trust to 22% saying they had no trust). Newspapers didn’t see such a big surge in no trust — but it still doubled from 4% to 8%. No trust in commercial radio doubled from 6% to 12%.

And commercial talkback radio now almost seems an object of contempt. In March 2010, 11% of voters said they had no trust in talkback radio; that is now 22%. The proportion saying they had “not much trust” has stayed the same at 32%. Commercial talkback also presents the clearest ideological gradation: Greens voters hate it — some 80% say they have no or little trust in it; Labor voters dislike it at 58%; Liberal voters are relatively well-disposed — only 46% have little or no trust.

In comparison, other commercial media tend to polarise less — by and large, Greens voters are less trusting of all commercial media, but there’s little to distinguish Labor and Liberal voters. Instead, Greens voters trust the ABC a lot more — 46% say they have “a lot of trust” in ABC TV and 42% have a lot of trust in ABC radio, much more than other voters.

Essential also asked about trust in individual newspapers, and we ran its national data, which had the effect of favouring the national newspaper The Australian and doing no favours at all for The Courier Mail, which barely anyone reads outside Queensland. Essential then stripped out out-of-state responses for the non-national newspapers and from people who don’t read the the relevant titles, which had the effect of elevating The Age to the most trusted title among its state-based readership, ahead of The Sydney Morning Herald and The Australian (comparing a national paper to metropolitan papers on state-based figures becomes a bit apples and oranges, but it’s difficult to find a proper common basis). The Daily Telegraph emerged clearly as the less trusted newspaper, with 21% of NSW people who’ve read it saying they had no trust at all in it, and another 25% saying they had “not much trust”.

Of course, it should be noted that for “news and opinion websites”, which includes Crikey, trust fell from from 49% to 41%, and there, too, the same type of fall was evident — people with “no trust at all” doubled to 12%.

It’s difficult to explain this away as a rogue result — the careful differentiation of voters between the ABC, which has held or gained trust, and the rest of us, who are regarded as significantly less trustworthy — suggests Essential didn’t just catch voters in a foul mood. The most significant media event since March 2010 was of course the election, but voters have previously told Essential they thought the media did a reasonable job in covering it.

Phone hacking may therefore be the culprit, especially given much of the poll was done last week, before Norway had pushed the issue off the front pages, although it is odd that commercial television news had the sharpest drop in perceived trustworthiness. It may be the steady retreat of the Seven and Nine networks from serious news, with their 6pm bulletins now essentially infotainment programs, complete with non sequitur throws to reporters at venues often only tangentially related to the story at hand for a faux “breaking” feel, is the problem.

The overall impact of the results, however, is to establish a considerable distance between the ABC and the rest of us in the media. While individual mastheads like The Age may garner higher levels of trust than the tabloids, ABC news and current affairs has a huge lead over commercial media, particularly as its nearest competitor in trustworthiness, commercial television news, suffered the biggest fall. Newspapers are now third behind ABC television and ABC radio in trustworthiness, but it’s a distant third, especially given nearly a quarter of voters trust ABC TV a lot, compared to 6% for newspapers.

There’s a credibility gap in our media, and its growing.