8 Apr 2024

People's trust in news has tumbled over the past year, survey shows

From Mediawatch, 9:00 am on 8 April 2024

The latest annual survey of New Zealanders’ trust in news media has recorded another sharp drop.

It also found more people are avoiding the news - but many people said they were still interested in it and prepared to pay for it online. 

Falling trust in news in New Zealand recorded by the JMAD survey.

Falling trust in news in New Zealand recorded by the JMAD survey. Photo: JMAD

The fifth annual Trust in News in Aotearoa New Zealand report found trust in news in general fell significantly, from 42 percent in 2023 to 33 percent this year. 

Meanwhile, the proportion of the 1,033 respondents who actively avoided the news “to some extent” grew from 69 percent in 2023 to 75 percent in 2024.  

“Those who say they don’t trust and/or avoid the news are most concerned about the negativity of news, including its impact on their mental health, and what they perceive as political bias and opinion masquerading as news,” the report said. 

The most comprehensive annual survey of New Zealanders’ trust in news has been carried out by AUT‘s Centre for Journalism Media and Democracy (JMAD) since 2020. It has recorded a 20 percent slump in trust over five years. 

It uses Horizon Research for the data-gathering and replicates a similar annual survey of 46 other countries by international news agency Reuters. The survey has a maximum margin of error at the 95 percent confidence level for the total sample of ±3 percent.

For the first time since 2020, the proportion of people trusting the news here was lower than the international average recorded in the Reuters Institute’s Digital News Report, which was 40 per cent in 2023.   

But the 2024 JMAD report found interest in news in New Zealand was high compared to the international average and more New Zealanders were also paying for digital news. 

Twenty-four percent of respondents said they had online subscriptions in 2023. Only Norway and Sweden had a higher proportion in the Reuters international survey.  

The JMAD 2024 report said data from 2020 to 2023 showed people aged 18-24 had the most trust in news compared to other demographic groups. Those who were aged 55-64 were the least trusting, with 51 percent expressing mistrust in the news.

The survey found the major New Zealand news outlets all suffered an annual decline in trust. The Otago Daily Times returned a higher score for trustworthiness than any other local news publisher, followed by RNZ and NBR.  

Broadcasters suffered significant falls in the latest report: Whakaata Māori fell 14.6 percent, TVNZ 9.4 percent and Newshub 7.8 percent over the past year.

Fourteen percent of people said they’d used “alternative news sites” over the previous week, up 1 percent on the result recorded in 2022 and 2023.   

Two thirds of people who trusted the news agreed journalists "provide me with quality information about important issues" and 54 percent said that they depended on journalists not to misinform them via "fair and honest reporting". 

Almost half said "journalists do their best to tell both sides of stories" and opinions expressed by people in news were based on facts. 

Fifteen percent reported using TikTok as a source of news.

Dr Merja Myllilahtia and Dr Greg Treadwell from the AUT's Centre for Journalism, Media and Democracy.

Dr Merja Myllilahtia and Dr Greg Treadwell from the AUT's Centre for Journalism, Media and Democracy. Photo: RNZ / Jeremy Ansell

"Trust in news and news outlets keeps declining and journalists and media companies need urgently to form relationships with their audiences and with communities to rebuild that trust," AUT’s Dr Greg Treadwell, a co-author of the report, said. 

Dr Merja Myllylahti, JMAD co-director and co-author of the report, said journalism had lost its authority as the main source of news and information. 

“In general, people distrust the information they see, and they are increasingly checking their ‘facts’ themselves,” she said. 

In the same month the survey was conducted, the previous Labour government abandoned its planned new public media entity to replace TVNZ and RNZ. The cost of the abandoned merger was widely reported to be in excess of $16m. 

The report asked New Zealanders whether they believed that the news media “were independent of undue political or government influence most of the time”.

Twenty-seven percent agreed, but the proportion of those who 'strongly or tend to disagree' increased from 43 percent in 2023 to 47 percent. A quarter of respondents neither agreed nor disagreed.

Eighty-seven percent of those surveyed who did not trust news said it was "biased and unbalanced", while 82 percent said news reflected the political leaning of the newsroom and 76 percent regarded news as "too opinionated, lacking in actual information".

The proportion of those who believed “government financial support for the media means you cannot trust journalists to hold the government to account” dropped from 61 percent in 2023 to 59 percent.

Some respondents said they supplemented news media reporting by searching for other information and perspectives. 

"While sceptical of some stories at times being unbiased I believe what I see until proven otherwise. Social media is quick to jump on anything that may be incorrect," one respondent, aged between 65 and 74, said.