As local news media companies are stricken by falling revenues from the Covid-19 crisis, a survey finds trust in news here is high by international standards.

A new survey finds New Zealanders have a relatively high level of trust in news sources compared to countries like Australia, the UK and America.

The JMAD survey released this morning reports 53 percent of Kiwis trust “most of the news, most of the time” – ahead of the UK where that trust is at 40 percent, Australia 38 percent and the US on just 32 percent.

The ‘snapshot’ research report found even more New Zealanders, 63 percent, trust the news that they consume personally.

At the same time, New Zealanders’ trust in news from social media (16 percent) or search engines (27 percent) was lower than that in other countries, which averaged 23 and 33 percent respectively.

JMAD is the AUT research centre for Journalism, Media and Democracy. Report authors Dr Merja Myllylahti and Dr Greg Treadwell said it was hard to tell how the pandemic and lockdown, which had prompted large audiences for news organisations, had affected people’s trust in media.

Their report comes as media companies seek help from the Government after the Covid-19 economic crash devastated advertising revenues.

“It can be argued that the timing of this report could not be more relevant,” the authors wrote. “In April 2020, news media companies in Aotearoa New Zealand [are] in existential crisis as the Covid-19  pandemic further ate away at their already falling advertising income and print sales. In many Western countries, media companies have asked for financial support from their governments.”

It is the first survey using a 38-country Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism questionnaire to be conducted in New Zealand. Horizon Research questioned 1200 people online between March 23 and 30, as the Covid-19 virus emerged and as the country moved into Level 4 lockdown.

“Overall, trust is higher in New Zealand than in [most of] the 38 countries included in the Reuters Digital News Report 2019,” the New Zealand report says. “According to the Reuters report, in 2019 the overall trust in news across 38 countries surveyed stood at 42 percent, and 49 percent of respondents across those nations said they trusted news they consumed.” 

Of the major media outlets, the two state-owned broadcasters stood out: RNZ on top with a score of seven from the possible 10, followed by TVNZ and then Newshub. Newsroom, with a score of 6.4, led the online and print media outlets.The report said state broadcasters commonly led trust scores overseas.

(Using a scale of 0-10, where 0 was not trustworthy at all and 10 completely trustworthy, respondents were asked to rate their level of trust in eight news brands. Average scores out of 10 were calculated from those who knew of each source.)  

Other key findings were:

– Despite strong levels of trust in news, New Zealanders are strongly concerned by poor journalism (factual mistakes, dumbed-down stories, misleading headlines/clickbait), facts being spun to push certain agendas, and commercial and political messages dressed up as news.

– New Zealanders are more concerned about ‘fake news’ than news consumers in the 38 other countries.

– New Zealanders are worried about the use of term ‘fake news’, too; 86 percent of respondents were concerned it was used by politicians and others to discredit news sources they did not like, with 50 percent of respondents saying they were strongly concerned about this. 

Last year’s full Reuters Institute survey found while people were paying for high quality digital news, in general the level of payment continued to be low. JMAD’s authors said: “The fact people trust legacy media, but are still not paying enough to support them, captures the essence of the current media crisis in New Zealand, as elsewhere.”  

Tim Murphy is co-editor of Newsroom. He writes about politics, Auckland, and media. Twitter: @tmurphynz

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