World

People Perceive Media Freedom Differently Worldwide

by Cynthia English and Tudor Vlad

Chadians among the least likely to say media in their country have a lot of freedom

This is the first article in a series about media perceptions worldwide.

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- People worldwide are more likely to perceive the media in their countries as having a lot of freedom than not. A median of 67% across 112 countries Gallup surveyed in 2010 say their media have this much freedom. This view varies, however, ranging from as low as 27% in Chad to as high as 95% in the Netherlands.

Preception of media freedom worldwide

Free and independent media are indicators of governance and development, so it is not too surprising that residents of countries and territories struggling in these areas are among the least likely worldwide to see their media as having a lot of freedom. Fewer than one in three adults perceive their country's media as having a lot of freedom in Chad (27%), Haiti (28%), Armenia (29%), Belarus (30%), and Mauritania (32%).

Countries with least perceived media freedom

Many of the countries surveyed have laws that guarantee freedom of the press or expression, but they can interpret this freedom differently. Chad's constitution, for example, recognizes freedom of expression, but "authorities [there] have routinely used threats and legal provisions to censor critical reporting," according to Freedom House. Journalists have been threatened or imprisoned in each of the countries where residents are most critical of press freedom.

On the other hand, countries where residents are most likely to see their media having a lot of freedom are among the most highly developed in the world. At least 9 in 10 respondents in 10 countries say the media in their countries enjoy a lot of freedom, with people living in the Netherlands, Denmark, and Australia nearly universally believing this about their media. The U.S. narrowly misses making the top 10 with 89% of Americans saying U.S. media have a lot of freedom.

Countries with most perceived media freedom

Bottom Line

The media's ability to act as catalysts in the democratic process and to reinforce their social objectives are two reasons researchers have been trying to measure global press freedom for decades. Gallup's data further inform this discussion, revealing that perceptions of media freedom vary worldwide, with the most highly developed nations among the most likely to say their media have a lot of freedom.

The next article in this series will focus on how resident evaluations of media freedom compare with expert assessments.

Lee Becker contributed to this article. Becker is a Gallup senior research adviser and director of the James M. Cox, Jr., Center for International Mass Communication Training and Research at the University of Georgia.

Tudor Vlad is a Gallup senior research adviser and associate director of the James M. Cox, Jr., Center for International Mass Communication Training and Research at the University of Georgia.

For complete data sets or custom research from the more than 150 countries Gallup continually surveys, please contact SocialandEconomicAnalysis@gallup.com or call 202.715.3030.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone and face-to-face interviews with approximately 1,000 adults, aged 15 and older, conducted in 112 countries between February and December 2010. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error ranged from a low of ±1.4 to a high of ±4.7. The margin of error reflects the influence of data weighting. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

For more complete methodology and specific survey dates, please review Gallup's Country Data Set details.

Media freedom perceptions in 112 countries surveyed
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