Peter Coleman: The self-inflicted tragedy of trust

Jun 19, 2024 at 04:45 pm by admin

The news industry is facing a crisis of credibility – globally and especially, it seems, in Australia – and it may be that we have nobody to blame but ourselves.

A new report from Canberra University’s news and media research centre is just the latest to point to the problem: a third of respondents don’t trust the news they read, eight per cent more than eight years ago.

Commentary from Rasmus Kleis Neilsen and Richard Fletcher of Oxford University’s Reuters Institute covers similar ground with new survey results.

And worryingly, Australia’s biggest news media company, News Corp was rated the country’s fifth most distrusted brand by pollster Roy Morgan Research, behind only phone company Optus, Facebook/Meta, Qantas, and telecomms giant Telstra. The pollster’s Michele Levine observes that “all four have faced significant scandals in recent years including content policies and moderation, widespread data breaches and allegations of profiteering”… but doesn’t make it clear which four. Incidentally, the survey has national broadcaster the ABC at 17 in the ‘most-trusted’ end of the list.

All this in the context of industry group ThinkNewsBrands –now representing media giants News, Nine and Seven West – promoting print and digital news as “Australia’s most memorable and trusted media platform”.

Something’s going wrong, and we need to both identify it, and do something to rectify the credibility gap. From six decades of journalistic experience and as many as a media-watcher, the following are a couple of suggestions:

Differentiate comment: Time was when the stuff in quotation marks was what people said or thought, and we could rely on the rest being fact. That’s no longer the case, with ‘comment’ sometimes identified as such, and sometimes presented as fact, albeit interlaid with opinion.

Balance coverage: Speaks for itself… doesn’t it?

Quit the white-anting: Seems it’s the open season on criticising your competitors all year round. Nobody should be beyond criticism, but if you fill your columns with saying how evil your rivals are (and they do the same), who’s to blame readers for coming to think we’re a pretty shameful lot.

Last week, when a journalist fell to the floor while (let’s admit it) harassing the chairman of a rival publisher – whether he walked backwards into something, or was pushed – “related” coverage appeared simultaneously in five reports on one platform. No prizes for guessing which.


Things have reached “a pretty pass” (as they used to say) when industry commentator ‘Dr Mumbo’ in Mumbrella could (albeit briefly, as the online column has since been taken down) spoof the idea that the Murdoch empire was sending UK lieutenant Rebekah Brooks down under for special duties of a telecommunications kind… if you know what I mean.

It would be funny if it wasn’t tragic.

Sections: Columns & opinion


or Register to post a comment