Trust in Australia’s commercial media has hit new lows, while the ABC continues to command the trust of voters.

In a reprise of questions asked in July this year and in 2010, Essential Research asked voters about levels of trust in different forms of media. Following the establishment by the government of an independent inquiry into the newspaper industry and its regulation, the results are damning for commercial media.

Newspapers now command “a lot” or “some” trust from only 46% of voters, down from 53% in July. That was itself down from 62% in March 2010.

The July result appeared to be the result of the prominent coverage of phone hacking by the Murdoch press in Britain, but the fall has continued unabated since then, despite Australia’s two biggest print media companies, News Limited and Fairfax, insisting all was well with Australian newspapers.

Only 3% of voters say they have “a lot of trust” in newspapers while 13% say they have “no trust at all”.

Trust in commercial news and current affairs has also fallen, from 48% in July to 43% now, after being 64% in 2010. Five per cent of voters say they have a lot of trust in commercial television news, but 19% say they have no trust at all.

In contrast, trust in the ABC’s television news and current affairs edged up from 71% to 72%, with 23% of voters saying they had “a lot of trust” in the national broadcaster. Trust in its radio news and current affairs stayed on 67%; trust in the ABC’s radio talkback programs remained at 47%.

The least-trusted media are internet blogs, trusted by just 17% of voters. Next are commercial radio talkback programs, which have remained the same on 33%. News and opinion websites are on 38%, having fallen from 41% in July.

And in another blow for the newspaper industry, voters disapprove of the regulatory performance of the Australian Press Council. Only 20% of voters think the Press Council, set up and funded by newspapers themselves, does a good job of regulating the industry. Twenty five per cent of voters don’t think the council does a good job, while 38% think it does only an average job of regulating the sector.

The Press Council, under a more activist chairman in Julian Disney, has ambitions for a bigger, more formal regulatory role and wants to bring online publications within its ambit. The reaction from voters suggests such ambitions are based on shaky ground indeed.

Peter Fray

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