Public trust in Australian media has declined sharply in 2022, falling from the record-high levels of trust recorded in 2021.
According to the 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer, Australians’ trust in its media sources has fallen to 43 per cent which is down from 48 per cent in 2021.
Trust across media sources and platforms has declined with traditional media only trusted by 48 per cent of Australians and search engines like Google trusted by 47 per cent of Australians.
Social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram were trusted the least, with only 24 per cent of Australians trusting them for their news.
A push to the fringe
Curtin lecturer Phil Chilton says a loss in faith in the mainstream media has caused people to seek out and establish fringe conspiracy media.
“People have lost faith in the media as an institution … and now they’re looking for a way to re-establish control in how they understand the world,” Dr Chilton says.
“If they can’t understand it through the institution they used to understand it through, then they’ll need something else … and they tend to gravitate towards conspiracy theories, particularly around that vaccine choice stuff.”
Dr Chilton says a fall in public trust across media, government and business is caused by a general feeling of despair surrounding housing, income inequality and social instability.
“Nobody feels like they’re going to do better than their parents. It adds up to a whole culture of despair.
“The virus has supercharged it.”
The 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer also says Australia’s economic optimism is at a record low, with only 41 per cent of Australians feeling their family will be better off in five years time.
Dr Chilton says far-right events are often documented by the media of the organisers and they encourage their protestors to livestream themselves online.
“These people are very hostile to corporate media. They think they’re a part of the conspiracy to fool us all.”
Earning back the trust
Senior lecturer in journalism at Curtin University Kathryn Shine says there are ways mainstream media can earn back the trust of those who have lost faith in traditional outlets.
“Having balance in your stories, seeking out authoritative sources and including the perspectives of ordinary people. News can’t just be about the government, it should also be about the impact of what governments do on people,” she says.
Dr Shine says people are unfairly grouping the media and the government together when the media is there to hold the government to account.
“I understand why people feel let down by their governments … but we actually need the media more than ever.
“A lot of people do genuinely trust good media when they need it … it’s the exception rather than the rule.”
Freedom Media WA declined to comment.