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DNR Australia 2020: Australia wants impartial and independent news

Elly Mackay

16 June 2020: Australians want independent and impartial news, according to findings from the Digital News Report (DNR): Australia 2020 - released today by the News and Media Research Centre (N&MRC) at the University of Canberra.

The annual report considers the survey results of over 2,000 Australians and is published in partnership with the Reuters Institute at Oxford University and sponsored by the Judith Nielson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.

Lead author Associate Professor Dr Sora Park says 54 per cent of news consumers want their news to be impartial, while 62 per cent recognise the importance of independent journalism in society.

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

“It is reassuring for quality news providers to know that the majority of Australians prefer impartial and independent coverage.”

The data collected also suggests that older news consumers are more likely to want impartial news than those in younger generations – with only 45 per cent of Gen Z believing it is important, compared to three quarters of baby boomers.

This year’s report results were heavily influenced by unprecedented health and weather events. The bushfires and coronavirus outbreak resulted in an increase in news consumption and increased reliance on trusted news sources.

The percentage of heavy news users rose to 56 per cent during the bushfire season and increased again to 70 per cent due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In times of great uncertainty, news consumers seek more reliable, accurate, and up-to-date news as the unfolding events directly influence their safety and wellbeing,” Dr Park said.

The bushfire crisis was also a catalyst in changing Australians’ beliefs around climate change. Report findings show that four out of five news consumers consider climate change to be either somewhat, very, or extremely serious.

Despite high overall figures, regional and rural news consumers are less likely to think climate change is a serious problem. Co-author of the DNR: Australia 2020 Assistant Professor Dr Caroline Fisher says these results were unexpected.

“Given this survey was in the field during the bushfire season that hit rural and regional Australia hardest, these findings are surprising,” said Dr Fisher.

One fifth (21 per cent) of regional news consumers say they aren’t interested in news about climate change, compared to just 11 per cent of their city counterparts.

Bushfires and drought weren’t the only disasters to hit regional and rural Australia in 2020. With the COVID-19 pandemic came wide-spread shutdowns of local newspapers.

Of those surveyed, nearly half (45 per cent) said they were very or extremely interested in local news – with local newspapers and their websites cited as the top source of local news at 41 per cent.

The COVID-19 pandemic also proved how much local news still matters, as consumers need access to information specific to their area. Survey results indicated that Australians would miss local news outlets if they were to close, with local radio (81 per cent) the most missed source.

“Everyone needs access to reliable information about their community and with local paper shutdowns, regional communities are going to be hit very hard,” said Dr Fisher.

“Unfortunately, the decision isn’t being made by audiences – these survey results show that if they were, people would keep reading print news for a lot longer.”

Other discoveries in the DNR: Australia 2020 include that Australians think politicians’ false claims should be reported by the media, podcasts and video news are rising in popularity, and trust in news continues to fluctuate.

The full report can be accessed here.