Declining trust in news cause for concern during election year

April 26, 2023

Declining trust in news cause for concern during election year

One graph from the report shows New Zealand’s low trust when compared with other countries. Image: Supplied.

Trust in news is declining and news avoidance is high, according to a new report by AUT’s research centre for Journalism, Media, and Democracy (JMAD).

The annual Trust in News in Aotearoa New Zealand report showed an ongoing downward trend in general trust in news, which fell from 45 per cent to 42 per cent in 2023.

News avoidance in Aotearoa was also found to be at a higher level than in comparable markets internationally, with around 69 per cent of New Zealanders avoiding news often, sometimes or occasionally.

Co-author of the report, Dr Merja Myllylahti, says that during an election year low trust in news can create an opportunity for misinformation to spread, as people turn to alternative sites or social media for their news.

“The news system again depends on where the people get their information about the elections. So if they don’t consume the news, where do they get that... do they actually know what’s verified information and what’s not?”

Myllylahti says that fringe and alternative sources can weaponise low trust in the news media, framing themselves as the real “places of truth” in order to discredit journalists.

“They other the news media, and say that they're not telling the truth and they are corrupt and they’re woke and things like that.”

She says this rhetoric is heightening political polarisation and allowing sources of misinformation to flourish.

“In the polarised society of course then there is a danger that people who feel that they are not heard, and their voices are not heard, can easily slip to those places, alternative sites which don’t operate with the verified facts and data and information.”

To rebuild trust in the news media, Myllylahti says that younger voices are needed in newsrooms, and the process of journalism should be more transparent.

“Younger people have a different kind of experience and different kind of views and bring those perspectives… you live in a different kind of world, so I think it has to be young people in the newsrooms, and the newsrooms have to be open for that.”

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