Trust in New Zealand news media nose dives, “No strong case for public funding of commercial news content.”

Chris Lynch
Chris Lynch
Apr 09, 2022 |

Trust in news media in New Zealand has fallen “alarmingly” according to a new study from AUT.

From 2020-2022, broadcasters TVNZ, Newshub, RNZ and Newsroom saw the biggest drops – over 10%.

During the same period, the NZ Herald, Newstalk ZB and Stuff also experienced “significant declines in trust.”

Stuff dropped approximately 5% and in the NZ Herald 8% the study said.

In 2020, 62% of New Zealanders trusted the news they consumed, in 2022 the figure was 52%.

In 2021-2022, trust in the Iwi radio network, Māori TV and TVNZ dropped more than 10% from the previous year, and trust in RNZ fell almost 9%.

RNZ remained the most trusted news brand (trust score 6.2/10).

The Otago Daily Times (6.0/10), included in the survey for the first time, was the second most trusted news brand in 2022, followed by TVNZ (5.9/10) and Newshub (5.8/10).

The Trust in Aotearoa News in New Zealand report was produced in collaboration with the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism.

For the 2022 report, 1,085 New Zealand adults (18 years of age or over) were surveyed between February 22 and March 1, 2022, by Horizon Research.

Graphic: AUT research centre for Journalism, Media and Democracy (JMAD)

The Spinoff and Newstalk ZB maintained their 2021 trust levels.

Report co-author Dr Merja Myllylahti said one of the main reasons for distrust in news media appeared to be “the Government’s funding of it.”

“A large number of respondents now perceive media as an extension of the Government, hence it is seen as untrustworthy.”

Report co-author Dr Merja Myllylahti

Dr Greg Treadwell, co-author of the report said “this year, journalists have been increasingly under attack when reporting on the Covid crisis, vaccinations, vaccine mandates, and protests.”

“In its role as a disseminator of vital information in a crisis, the media has perhaps been seen as the Government mouthpiece. In one sense, it has quite rightly been.”

No strong case for ongoing public funding of commercial news content

Meanwhile, a separate review of the $55 million fund established to promote public interest journalism found the case for ongoing funding of commercial news is “not strong”.

The report was produced by consultancy company Sapare and was quietly added to the Ministry of Culture and Heritage website in February.

It said given the current state of plurality and the risks associated with public funding of journalism content “we do not see a strong case for any ongoing public funding of commercial news content.”

Several news chiefs expressed concern that funding decisions had crossed into editorial decision-making, with New Zealand On Air effectively holding a ‘beauty contest’ to choose which proposed stories/investigations merited support.

It was suggested that funding these one-off incremental outputs will produce marginal public benefit and does little to encourage the industry to confront the true challenges of producing sustainable news.

The funding support from the PIJF was also described as uneven and creating winners and losers in the industry.

Despite the impact of Covid-19 being near universal, some newsrooms benefited from taxpayer-funded staff while others missed out entirely.

Others observed that due to the relatively limited pool of journalists in New Zealand, the Public Interest Journalism Fund created a ‘giant game of musical chairs’ and was leading to salary inflation rather than building new capacity.

Some news outlets also expressed reservations that public funding of media firms may make those firms beholden to the government of the day and public officials might be reluctant to fund proposals that will be critical of government policies – which would undermine a key plurality objective of the media being able to hold public institutions and elected officials accountable.

However, most news firms interviewed rejected the proposition that government funding would affect their editorial independence, impartiality, or their willingness to criticise government policies and decisions.

The report said the government’s role in funding journalism is a complex issue that will need to be fully explored at some point in the future, including giving consideration to how funding decisions are made and the level of independence from government oversight.

Chris Lynch
Chris Lynch

Chris Lynch is a journalist, videographer and content producer, broadcasting from his independent news and production company in Christchurch, New Zealand. If you have a news tip or are interested in video content, email [email protected]

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