It's time to stop the pile-ons and focus on building trust

It’s time to stop the pile-ons and focus on building trust

My colleagues and I launched the Australian Edelman Trust Barometer 2022 this week, which measures trust in the institutions of government, media, business and non-government organisations across 28 countries.

Unless you are doing a complete digital detox, it should come as no surprise to hear that we found the trust bubble of 2021 — back when as a nation we were doing OK in the midst of a pandemic — has burst.

This year, I found the findings of the barometer especially personal.

I related to some of the data deeply, and I can’t help thinking that Women’s Agenda readers will too.

Some 61 per cent of survey respondents agreed that people in this country lack the ability to have constructive and civil debates about issues they disagree on.

You think?

Apart from being surprised it’s not higher, my mind immediately goes to the extraordinary airtime dedicated to Grace Tame’s side-eye and choice to not smile during a recent photograph. And the extraordinary development this week when a picture of a younger Tame near a bong surfaced. My bet is that picture changed absolutely nobody’s mind about the former Australian of the Year. Fans remained fans and those that that would scoff, scoffed.

Which leads me to another Trust finding – that media (55%) and Government (52%) are seen as dividing forces in society. This is playing out across the world in Western democracies, as these institutions chase clicks and votes. Divisiveness works for them, to a certain extent. But wow, does it come at a cost. Question Time is a bin fire and journalists are trolled mercilessly. This is compounded when the journo or host is female. The ABC’s Lisa Millar took herself off Twitter, while Leigh Sales and Samantha Maiden occasionally share some of the daily bile, vicious and sexist, directed their way.

In the public arena, we are playing the person, not the policy, and it’s distracting us from the issues at hand. A few days ago, disability advocate Carly Findlay had her image turned into hate art. Lawyer and activist Nyadol Nyuon is regularly subjected to racist slurs. But they keep showing up, boosting others’ calls for action. Brittany Higgins and Rosie Batty have paid an awful, personal price. It’s exhausting, and maddening.

We’re hearing a lot about the “quiet Australians” at the moment, and politicians and pundits are speaking for them. Sorry to break this to you but there’s a serious Trust issue here too. A majority of Australians believe that journalists (65%) and government leaders (61%) are actively trying to mislead them. Witness the Convoy to Canberra scenes, where thousands railed against a system that just isn’t working for them, and official information they actively disbelieve. On this point, they’re not alone, 73% of Australians worry that fake news is being weaponised.

We’ve got a significant Trust gap along income lines too – the bottom 25% of income earners aren’t trusting any of the four institutions. Let’s not forget that many of our lowest-paying industries are skewed female, and the work is often casual or insecure. The pandemic has reminded us how much we need nurses, aged care workers and early childhood educators and the value we must place on this work.

As a nation, we don’t think we will be better off in five years’ time. As a mother of five, I worry for them and the future we’re forging for them.

It’s pretty grim, huh? Well, there is a bit of hope here. Trust has become localised – people are trusting their peers and their employers above others. We could and should be galvanising action at grassroots levels and urging our employers to try and support new things. Take for example, Young Australian of the Year, Daniel Nour, who founded Street Side Medics to treat homeless people, and now has some major support from the corporate sector. More of that, please.

Some 80% of Australians fully expect business leaders to speak up and act on the issues that plague us. What doesn’t business do, as a general rule? Get involved in pile-ons. Their employees, their customers, their investors demand better. Witness the growth and influence of socially aware superannuation firms, pushing for affordable housing, energy transformation and better working pay and working conditions for essential workers.

This year’s Trust Barometer hit me hard. Like many other women, I want more meaningful change and less toxic mudslinging. It’s distracting attention from the things that really matter.

Edelman found that information quality is now the most powerful trust builder across all institutions. Or as we like to say – tell it first, tell it truthfully, tell it yourself.

Let’s stop the sledging, the takedowns, and the targeting. Let’s get back to the facts and issues. And from me, as a communicator of some 20 plus years, put some empathy and understanding in there too.

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