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Middle East web users support freedom of expression

High marks for news credibility in UAE, pan-Arab study says

Gulf News

Manama: Web users in the Middle East support the freedom to express opinions online, but believe the Internet should be more tightly regulated, a study indicates.

The Pan-Arab survey conducted by Northwestern University in Qatar covered 9,693 adults in eight Arab countries - Egypt, Qatar, Tunisia, Bahrain, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and the UAE - shedding light on how people in the region use media, and whether they trust their sources of information.

According to the findings, a large majority of adults in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates believe their news media are credible (74%, 67% and 63%, respectively).

However, only one in four of those surveyed in Egypt, Lebanon and Tunisia believes that the news media in their countries are credible.

“This is a particularly interesting phenomenon in Lebanon, as this is thought to be a country with free press,” Everette E. Dennis, Dean and CEO of NU-Q, said.

In other findings, most of the respondents agreed that the quality of news reporting in the Arab world has improved in the past two years (61 per cent) compared with 14 per cent who disagreed.

Facebook remained the most popular social media with 94 per cent of the using it, well ahead of microblog Twitter with 52 per cent, Google Plus with 46 per cent.

Instagram, a favourite for 14 per cent of the respondents, is most popular in Bahrain.

Television was considered the most reliable source of information except in Bahrain, the country with the highest overall media use, where the internet is thought to be the most reliable source of information.

“This study considers how people’s use of media is closely connected to what they think about media – particularly the news media following the so-called Arab Spring that began in 2011 – and how important various outlets are to them in their daily lives,” Dennis said. “We hope this study benefits news consumers and decision-makers, and contributes to the general understanding in the media of this fast-changing region.”

According to Dennis, the methodology used to collect results makes this a “watershed survey for researchers looking at media and internet use in the Arab world.”

“We used face-to-face interviews rather than the conventional web surveys, as well as phone interviews where the respondents were selected by random selection from a directory of listed telephone numbers as well as a sample of mobile numbers,” he said in a statement emailed to Gulf News.

“This ensures that we have comprehensive and genuine data that can be trusted by observers and policy makers in Qatar and in a region that is reshaping the role of the media.”

The study was conducted in collaboration with Harris Interactive, a polling organization.

The findings were presented during the second session of the Qatar Media Industries Forum, an initiative of NU-Q that brings together senior officials of media enterprises in Qatar. The Forum provides participants with a neutral platform to explore key issues of Qatari and regional media industries.

Northwestern University in Qatar was founded in 2008 by parent organization Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, USA in partnership with the Qatar Foundation.