Trust and Mistrust in Australian News Media

This project aimed to gauge Australia’s degree of trust in news media, with reference to news brands. Additionally, this project investigated how news about recent trends in the Australian housing market affect expectations of house prices and tested whether this effect is stronger when news source is perceived to be more trustworthy.

Why is this important?

Trust in news media is essential to well-functioning societies. The UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, has observed that “our world is suffering from a bad case of ‘Trust Deficit Disorder’ … people are losing faith in political establishments, polarisation is on the rise and populism is on the march” (UN Secretary-General, 2018). In Australia, the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee has identified ‘a wealth of evidence showing a worrying decline in the level of public trust’ (Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee, 2020).

Evidence of a crisis in trust is widespread, and debates about the measures required to rebuild trust have become a central topic globally. The question of mistrust in the institutions of government, business, and the media, has also raised questions about how best to measure trust, and how to identify sources of mistrust so as to identify possible solutions.

What did we do?

Using Qualtrics panels (www.qualtrics.com), our research team surveyed 1,050 Australians to gauge their degree of trust in news media, with reference to news brands. Using quotas, the sample was evenly distributed among groups with different levels of education (bachelors’ degree or higher; trade/technical degree or diploma; secondary/high school education for 12 years or less) and different levels of international travel experience (those who have travelled overseas in the last 12 months; those who have travelled overseas, but not in the last 12 months; and those who have never travelled overseas).

After studying the survey, we recruited 539 Australian residents from Prolific (www.prolific.co) to participate in an economic experiment for comparing the behavioural effects of receiving news from alternative sources. Specifically, the experiment investigated how news about recent trends in the Australian housing market affect expectations of house prices and tested whether this effect is stronger when the news source is perceived to be more trustworthy.

What did we find out?

  • There are relatively high levels of trust in well-established news brands, particularly the ABC and SBS, whose content is freely available to all Australian news consumers.
  • Of the new news brands included in the study, only Guardian Australia had established a significant trust reputation comparable to that of established news brands.
  • Greater engagement on social media platforms by news organisations will not in itself engender greater trust in news. Trust in news on social media platforms is considerably lower than that found on the websites of news media organisations themselves.
  • To rebuild trust, news organisations need to look within their own journalism cultures, rather than focusing primarily upon giving their content greater reach through social media.
  • From the audience’s perspective, improving trust does not require employing more journalists. Australian news consumers are primarily seeking greater accountability and transparency around the news content that is delivered.
  • Perceptions of bias and conflicts of interest are undermining trust in news, and audiences want action on this. Perceptions of bias also need to be openly addressed, and the line between fact and opinion more clearly demarcated.
  • Trust in particular news brands was found to have some impact upon the behaviour of prospective house buyers, although with mixed findings.
  • News organisations need to take seriously the expectations of greater public accountability that are also being directed at many public institutions, from churches and banks, to digital platforms and political parties.
  • Those who say they trust news can identify ways to strengthen that trust further. Those who already mistrust news identified few remedies to regain their trust. This suggests, once trust in news is lost, it is much harder to recover.

 

For more information about this project please email t.flew@qut.edu.au.


Funding / Grants

  • Funded by the BEST Centre (2019 - 2020)

Chief Investigators

Team


Project Report

Trust and Mistrust in News MediaReport

News & Media

  • “Mistrusting the news: What Australians want from news media” [Griffith Review]

 

 

 

 

 

  • “How can we restore trust in media? Fewer biases and conflicts of interest, a new study shows” [The Conversation]

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • “Do Australian’s Trust News Media? Mostly Yes, A New Study Shows” [The Wire – Interview]