Digital News Report Australia 2020: Australians want impartial and independent news

In a shrinking media landscape, Australians want impartial and independent news, but are they willing to pay for it?

The Digital News Report (DNR): Australia 2020 released by the News and Media Research Centre (N&MRC) from the Faculty of Arts and Design at the University of Canberra surveyed over 2,000 adult Australian news consumers and found that 54 per cent want their news to be impartial and 62 per cent say independent journalism is important for society to function properly.

While more than half of news consumers prefer impartial news, 19 per cent say they want news that confirms their world view, and 13 per cent want news that challenges their point of view.

Lead author of the report, Associate Professor Sora Park says the values of ‘independence’ and ‘impartiality’ have traditionally been core principles of journalism.

“In an online news environment, those ideals are being increasingly challenged with rise of opinion and clickbait to grab the attention of audiences,” said Dr Park.

“The public broadcaster has also come under attack in the battle over shrinking media markets. It is reassuring for quality news providers to know the majority of Australians prefer impartial and independent coverage.”

Older news consumers are more likely to want impartial news than younger generations. Only 45 per cent of Gen Z think it is important compared to three quarters of Baby Boomers (77 per cent) and those aged 74 or older (75 per cent).

Those who rely on social media for news are slightly less likely to want impartial news than people who mainly use traditional news sources and are slightly more likely to want news that supports their worldview. Dr Park says this points to concerns about echo chambers on social media whereby users choose information sources that support their perspective.

The data suggests that those who value journalism that is independent from commercial and political interests are more likely to pay for news. Interestingly, while the majority of news consumers say they prefer impartial news, people who want their worldview reflected in the news they consume are more likely to pay for it.

The DNR: Australia 2020 also found that more than half of Australian news consumers think journalists should report claims made by politicians that could be false. Fifty-four per cent said political journalists should report the comments that could be false because the public needs to know what their elected representatives are saying, and around one quarter (23 per cent) said the political statements should not be given unwarranted attention. In contrast, 68 per cent of US news consumers and 41 per cent in the UK think false comments made by politicians should be reported.

Other findings include:

  • Four out of five Australians think climate change is a serious problem, but 15 per cent don’t pay any attention to news about climate change; this is higher in regional areas (21 per cent).
  • Most Australians will miss local news if it disappears. The COVID-19 pandemic has proven how much local news still matters, as people need to get information about the spread of the virus in their area. During the bushfires, almost half of news consumers (45 per cent) said that they were very or extremely interested in local news.
  • News consumption and news sharing have increased since 2019, but interest in news has declined.
  • TV is still the main source of news for Australians but continues to fall.
  • Trust in news fell to 38 per cent but was higher for COVID-19 coverage (53 per cent).
  • Only 14 per cent continue to pay for online news, but more are subscribing rather than making one-off donations.

The DNR: Australia 2020 provides annual in-depth analysis of the state of news consumption in Australia. It is part of a global research project involving 40 countries co-ordinated by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford.

The full report can be accessed here.

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