A new report says that public trust in the mainstream media continues to decline.
NEWSTALK ZB'S MIKE HOSKING has an interesting take on why public trust in the mainstream media continues to decline as revealed in the report from AUT research centre for Journalism, Media and Democracy (JMAD) . His explanation is not that the media is seen as 'biased' but that it doesn't own up to its bias. He writes:
'Too much of the media is biased. The danger in it is not the fact they are biased, it's the fact they claim they aren't. They claim they are the defenders of the truth. In that is the con.
'It's a little bit complex. Many would argue they are neutral because they believe they are, despite the fact they are not. In other words, they can't see their own shortcomings. Others are just plain dishonest.'
But since Mike Hosking has never made any secret as to where his political allegiances lie, he is basically congratulating himself. Hosking, says Hosking, is not trying to pull the wool over people's eyes. Folk know where they stand with him - unlike public media, which he singles out for special mention:
'State-run and funded media has been hard hit. Iwi Radio, Maori Television, and TVNZ dropped more than 10% from the previous year. That is an indictment and we have every right to ask some serious questions around neutrality and whether we are getting value for money.'
But what Hosking doesn't say is that his own Newstalk ZB has also not been immune from a decline in public trust. It suffered a 8 percent decline in 2020-2022. And, yes, while RNZ has been hit by a 11.4 percent decline in the same period, it remains the most trusted brand today.
But this is something of a pyrrhic victory for RNZ as the overall survey results are nothing for the media to write home about, whichever way they are sliced. The results are poor right across the board. Says the report:
'In the three years of 2020-22, people’s trust in the news they consume dropped 10%. While in 2020, 62% of New Zealanders trusted the news they consumed, in 2022 the figure was 52%. Additionally, general trust in the news continues to decline. In three years of 2020-22, trust in news in general fell 8% from 53% in 2020 to 45% in 2022.'
But Mike Hosking is right in one respect. The mainstream is seen as biased by the general public but while that bias can be interpreted as simply favouring one political party or one particular ideological view, the real general source of concern is that the media has become a little too cosy with the political establishment for its own good and is no longer holding that political establishment to account in the way that it should. The New Zealand media is seen as largely reinforcing the status quo with dissenting views either disparaged or ignored.
There has been a consistent failure of journalists to distance themselves from the political class. Although other issues such as media ownership need to be examined, one of the big problems is the capitulation, effectively, of New Zealand journalism to what can be described as 'information management' - which this present Labour Government has taken to new levels. It has encouraged a revolving door between the media and the political establishment.
In a December 2019 column for The Guardian, commentator Bryce Edwards pointed out that the 'communications industry' has grown to such a degree that it now dwarfs the traditional media:
'....no one will be surprised that New Zealand now has many more public relations practitioners than journalists. The latest census results show about 8,000 people work in PR, greatly overshadowing the roughly 1,600 journalists working in print and broadcasting. Other calculations have put the ratio of PR to journalists at 10:1.
Many of the PR professionals work directly for the politicians, government departments, or local government authorities. “Communications” is a booming sector of politics and government.'
In the public's view the line between the Fourth Estate and the political elite has become blurred to the point of insignificance and its no coincidence that decline in public trust in the media has mirrored a decline in public trust for government itself.
The view that the mainstream media has become part of the political establishment is one of the reasons that many people have turned to other new and alternative media. While some mainstream journalists might like to dismiss the 'alternative media' as the peddler of 'fake news' that doesn't mean that there aren't reputable sources of news and comment available elsewhere. Their only crime is that they dissent from the predictable narratives of the mainstream media.
But while the media is always keen to dig in other people's gardens, its less keen about digging in its own. The failure of mainstream journalists to acknowledge that they have lost the trust of a growing section of the community and are seeking to blame others for their failures, will only ensure that trust in the mainstream media will continue to corrode.