Monday, December 10, 2007

World Divided on Press Freedom

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World opinion is divided on the importance of press freedom, according to a BBC World Service poll of 11,344 people across 14 countries.

While an average of 56% across all countries think that freedom of the press is very important to ensure a free society, 40% believe that social harmony and peace are more important, even if it means controlling what is reported for the greater good.

56% of people in the 14 countries polled think the press and media in their country is free to report the news accurately without bias. Only 19% say there is little or no media freedom in their country.

Private and publicly funded news organisations receive similar ratings from the public when it comes to reporting the news honestly and accurately. 39% of people across all countries say publicly funded news agencies are doing a good job, while 43% say the same for private news organisations.

However, in some countries the poll shows concern over the ownership of private media. Strong majorities in Brazil (80%), Mexico (76%), USA (74%), and Great Britain (71%) believe that the concentration of media ownership in fewer hands is a concern because owners’ political views emerge in reporting.

Of the countries where press freedom is most highly valued, Western developed countries are more critical of how honestly and accurately the news is reported, including Germany (28% average rating for good performance of public and private media), Great Britain (29%), and the USA (29%) whereas Venezuela (44%), South Africa (49%), Nigeria (58%), and Kenya (61%) rate the media performance more positively. (See diagram below).

In countries where social stability is more highly valued, those surveyed in India (61% good performance) and the UAE (52%) believe the news is being reported honestly, contrasting with a more negative view of press performance in Russia (27%), Mexico (28%), Brazil (31%) and Singapore (37%).

The survey was conducted for the BBC World Service by the international polling firms GlobeScan Incorporated and Synovate. Fieldwork took place between October 1 and November 21, 2007.

GlobeScan President Doug Miller comments, “While people generally support a free media, the Western view of the necessity of a free press to ensure a fair society is not universally shared across all regions of the world.”

The poll was commissioned as part of a season of programmes to celebrate BBC World Service’s 75th Anniversary.

Participating Countries

Note: In Egypt, India, South Africa, UAE and Venezuela, an urban sample was used. Please see the methodology page for further details.

Detailed Findings

Rating Freedom of Press and Media

People were asked to rate how free the press and media was in their country to be able to report the news accurately, truthfully and without undue bias, using a 5-point scale, where 5 was defined as “very free” and 1 as “not at all free”. Overall, people in developed countries are more critical of the freedom of the press than people in developing countries.

However, perceptions of media freedom vary considerably amongst developing countries. In Africa, for example, the percentage of people giving high freedom ratings of 4 or 5 on the 5-point scale (where 5 means “very free”) ranges from 81 percent in Kenya, to 66 percent in Nigeria, to 49 percent in South Africa. Similarly, in Latin America the proportion of people rating their press and media free ranges from 63 percent in Venezuela, to 52 percent in Brazil, to only 41 percent in Mexico. In Asia, 72 percent of Indians think the press and media is free compared to only 36 percent who feel the same in Singapore. Western Europe and North America are more consistent, with between 53 percent and 56 percent giving high ratings for press and media freedom.

Twenty-two percent of people overall seem non-committal on press freedom in their countries, opting for a rating of 3 on the 5-point scale (where 5 means “very free” and 1 means “not at all  free”). This group is relatively large in Singapore (33%), Germany (32%), Great Britain (30%), and Mexico (30%).

Freedom of the Press vs Social Stability

People across 14 countries were asked to choose which of two statements on the freedom of the media was closest to their own view:

  • Freedom of the press to report the news truthfully is very important to ensure we live in a fair society, even if it sometimes leads to unpleasant debates or social unrest.
  • While freedom of the press to report news truthfully is important, social harmony and peace are more important which sometimes means controlling what is reported for the greater good.

In most countries, press freedom is considered more important than stability. The exceptions are India, Singapore and Russia where around 48 percent support controls to ensure peace and stability and around 40 percent feel press freedom supersedes stability.

North America and Western Europe give the strongest endorsement to press freedom, with up to 70 percent putting freedom first. Interestingly, freedom of the press even in the face of potential social unrest is chosen by over six in ten in Venezuela, Kenya, and South Africa.

Performance of Public and Private News Organisations

When asked to assess the performance of news organisations in reporting news accurately and honestly, around 40 percent of people give public and private media a good rating of 4 or 5 on a 5-point scale (where 5 means “very good job” and 1 means “very poor job”).

Overall, government or publicly run news organisations are viewed slightly more negatively than their private, for-profit counterparts, especially in Brazil, India, Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa. Only in Egypt, Germany, Russia, and Singapore do people rate public media more positively than private media. Both public and private news organisations in the USA and Great Britain are rated positively by around 30 percent of people.

Perceptions vary between countries. The highest performance ratings are given in African countries, where around seven in ten of people say that private news organisations are doing a good job (giving a rating of 4 or 5 on the 5-point performance scale). However, the South African publicly-funded news media is an exception: only 30 percent of South Africans think it is doing a good job in reporting the news accurately.

Some of the most neutral responses are found in Europe and North America. News organisations in Great Britain and the United States receive positive ratings from 30 percent of people at most, regardless of funding source. German and Russian private media are viewed favourably by around 20 percent of people. In Europe, the largest group of respondents (39% to 49%) are those giving an average performance rating of 3 on the 5-point performance scale.

Media Ownership

People were asked to consider the implications of growing concentration of private news organisations in the hands of fewer large companies. In this context, they were asked to choose which of two statements was closest to their own view:

  • Ownership is not an issue because media owners do not interfere with the news content.
  • Ownership is a major issue because you often see owners’ political views emerge in the news.

Fifty-nine percent of people across the world think that media ownership is a major issue, while 35 percent do not consider it an issue.

There is some correlation between performance ratings and views on media ownership. The countries registering most concern about ownership of news organisations are the United States, South Africa and those in Latin America and Western Europe. These countries are among the most critical of news organisations in general, not just those privately-owned.

Middle Eastern and African countries (excluding South Africa) seem to be less concerned about media ownership, with at least half of respondents (50% to 59%) agreeing that “media owners do not interfere with news content”. However, a significant minority (between 38% and 49%) believe ownership is an issue.

Importance of Having a Say in News Reporting

People were asked to choose which of two statements on how best to decide on what news stories are reported was closest to their own view:

  • I think it is important that people like me have a say in what gets reported in the news.
  • I think that decisions as to which stories get reported in the news are best left to news organisations. 

Across the world, 56 percent of people are in favour of having a say in news reporting decisions, while 39 percent prefer to leave decisions on stories to news organisations. The strongest views emerge in Brazil and Mexico, where around 74% are interested in having a say. In contrast, only 29 percent of Russian respondents think it is important to for them to have a say in decisions on news stories.

A total of 11,344 citizens in Brazil, Egypt, Germany, Great Britain, India, Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria, Russia, Singapore, South Africa, the United Arab Emirates, the United States, and Venezuela were interviewed face-to-face or by telephone between October 1 and November 21, 2007. Polling was conducted for the BBC World Service by the international polling firms GlobeScan and Synovate and their research partners in each country. In 6 of the 14 countries, the sample was limited to major urban areas. The margin of error per country ranges from +/-2.5 to 4.4 percent.


For media interviews with the participating pollsters, please contact:

Chris Coulter, Vice-President
GlobeScan Incorporated, London
+44 20 7253 1441
(Mobile: +44 78 541 32 665) 

BBC World Service is an international radio and online broadcaster delivering programmes and services in 33 languages. The radio output reaches 183 million weekly listeners around the globe, on platforms that include SW, AM, FM, digital satellite and cable channels. It has around 2,000 partner radio stations which take BBC content, and numerous partnerships supplying content to mobile phones. Its international online sites include audio and video content and offer opportunities to feedback directly and discuss world events. They receive over 704 million page impressions monthly, attracting 38.5 million unique users per month.

Listen to BBC World Service at, on the BBC's national DAB digital radio multiplex, Freeview channel 710, Sky Channel 0115, Hot bird 8 satellite and Virgin Media.

GlobeScan Incorporated is a global public opinion and stakeholder research consultancy with offices in Toronto, London, and Washington. GlobeScan conducts custom research and annual tracking studies on global issues. With a research network spanning 50+ countries, GlobeScan works with global companies, multilateral agencies, national governments, and non-government organisations to deliver research-based insights for successful strategies.

Synovate, the market research arm of Aegis Group plc, generates consumer insights that drive competitive marketing solutions. The network provides clients with cohesive global support and a comprehensive suite of research solutions. Synovate employs over 5,700 staff in 115 cities across 51 countries.