Trust in New Zealand media declines as people say news increases their anxiety

By Peter Bale


New Zealand and the U.K.


Overall trust in New Zealand media slid for the third year running in the latest edition of a trust in news analysis carried out by New Zealand academics, using the same approach as the international trust report of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism.

The authors describe the decline in trust as “alarming” in a country of just over five million that has historically had high levels of social cohesion, relatively high trust in politicians, and an extensive domestic media environment — both commercial and publicly funded.

“In the three years of 2020-22, people’s trust in the news they consume dropped 10 [percentage points]. While in 2020, 62% of New Zealanders trusted the news they consumed, in 2022 the figure was 52%,” the research centre for Journalism, Media and Democracy (JMAD) and AUT, Auckland University of Technology, said in the report (its third).

The report found New Zealanders' trust in media at 62% in 2020 and at 52% in 2022.
The report found New Zealanders' trust in media at 62% in 2020 and at 52% in 2022.

In what those who urge governments to fund journalism may find a salutary lesson, the authors find that a Public Interest Journalism Fund (PIJF) created to help news companies survive and keep investing in public interest reporting may have backfired. A large number of respondents said they saw the media as an arm of government and therefore trusted it less.

The analysis picks up trends of fatigue and boredom found in the bigger RISJ studies.

“People are avoiding the news because they find it depressing, and negative, and it is increasing their anxiety. Many people also find news repetitive, boring, and overly dramatic,” said Dr. Merja Myllylahti, JMAD co-director, co-author of the report, and INMA blogger.

The most-trusted brands as in years before were the public broadcasters Radio New Zealand and Television New Zealand, but this year the newspaper group The Otago Daily Times was equal with them, apparently admired for engaging with its local community.

Dr. Myllylahti told me that a stand-out finding for her was boredom and fatigue with the news cycle and a sense that media outlets carried the same reports, something she thinks may reflect a downside in various content sharing arrangements between publishers — most commonly Radio New Zealand content, which is now distributed like a news agency.

She also said the concept of “mainstream media” had become weaponised and that people on the right and left now routinely attacked major outlets as favouring whichever side they supported, meaning both sides saw it as hostile to their interests.

“We need to stop using the label mainstream media and talk about journalism and not give that weapon to both sides,” she said.

About 13% of respondents said they got their news from “alternative” sources, and Facebook was the third-biggest source of news among New Zealand respondents.

Dr. Greg Treadwell, co-author of the JMAD report, noted that during 2022, journalists had come under attack from those opposed to intense lockdowns under the COVID pandemic and had borne some of the impacts of social division. The media had to tackle the trust question.

“Newsrooms must put regaining trust among their audiences at the top of their agenda for the sake of our democracy,” he said.

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About Peter Bale

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