Who can you trust?

A new digital report highlights rising skepticism in Australian news media

The 2024 Digital News Report released earlier this week is a wake up call to the Australian news media industry. The new edition of the Oxford University study – administered locally by the University of Canberra – takes a look back at the longer term trends it has been documenting over the past decade. Would you be surprised to learn that distrust in news is at an all time high?

One-third of Australians said they disagree with the statement “I can trust most news most of the time” – up 8 percentage points from 2016. It goes hand-in-hand with a decline in news interest, which has fallen 10pp in the same timeframe. 

Some will want to put the blame on social media, which has become one of the main news sources in the country, but it’s not that simple. 

The report crowned SBS News as the most trusted news brand (65 per cent say they trust it), followed by ABC and the collective ‘regional/local newspaper’ category. Outside this top three, all of the mainstream national news brands had low rates of trust. Only 50 per cent of respondents said they trust The Australian and Guardian Australia; a measly 48 per cent say they trust The Age, Sydney Morning Herald and News.com.au (despite being the #1 news site in the country). 

The report tells us Australian audiences are weighing up: journalistic standards; transparency about the editorial process; evidence of bias; whether subjects are being represented fairly; and exaggeration or sensationalism. All basic tenets of journalism that the audience clearly understands well. It doesn’t really matter where a publication decides to put its journalism – on a website, in an Instagram post or in a TV broadcast. If it fails to prove itself to the audience on these measures, it won’t earn their trust regardless.

As we head into an election year, the public’s distrust of the media will be easily exploited by those who will benefit from chaos and confusion. Flooding the zone with shit, as Steve Bannon called it. The nuclear power discourse is an early indicator of just how inane and unproductive media coverage during the 2025 federal election is going to be.

How can the industry rebuild trust?

For a start, instead of criticising audiences for getting news from sources like influencers, celebrities and everyday people, mainstream publishers need to consider whether their journalism is all that different. There is a growing contingent of people turning to these sources for news updates – 53 per cent of TikTok users are getting news from non-journalists. In some cases, these accounts are showing their research and being upfront about their biases in far greater detail than we’re used to seeing from the legacy publishers. 

I feel like a broken record at this point, but increasing the diversity of viewpoints shared in the news (and in newsroom decision-making) will also go a long way to rebuild trust. The report revealed people think the news should “offer different perspectives on topical issues” – but only 47 per cent believe Australian news is doing a good job of this. The fact that SBS, the only broadcaster dedicated to serving culturally and linguistically diverse communities, is the most trusted news brand in the country should send a message to the rest. 

Of course, I won’t hold my breath that the big publications will heed the warnings in the report. Instead, they’re running headfirst into ill-advised AI deals, hiking up prices, stifling the conversations Australia is trying to have in earnest. 

Lucky there are a few plucky indies – this masthead included – to see us through. 

Crystal Andrews is a journalist and the founder of Zee Feed.

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