Majorities in Most Countries Perceive Their Media as Free
World

Majorities in Most Countries Perceive Their Media as Free

by Cynthia English and Lee Becker

Adults in Belarus least likely to say their media have a lot of freedom

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- People worldwide are more likely to believe the media in their countries are free than not. A median of 67% adults across 133 countries and areas that Gallup surveyed in 2012 say their media have a lot of freedom, while a median of 24% say they do not. These figures have changed little since 2010.

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Perceived media freedom varies widely across countries, with as many as 97% in Finland and as few as 26% in Belarus saying their media are free.

In fact, a third or fewer adults in the Palestinian Territories (33%), Gabon (32%), Chad (32%), Zimbabwe (32%), and Belarus say the media in their countries have a lot of freedom. Expert evaluations of media freedom fall in line with these public opinions. Ten out of the 13 countries with the lowest percentage of adults saying their media are free are rated "not free" according to Freedom House's latest evaluations of press freedom.

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Residents in many of these countries with the lowest percentage of adults saying their media are free have consistently expressed skepticism about the presence of media freedom. Residents in Russia and Yemen, however, were less likely to say their media are free in 2012 than in previous years. Nearly half of Russian adults (48%) said their country's media have a lot of freedom in early 2012, but this sentiment dropped to 38% by October. Freedom House and Reporters Without Borders noted declines in press freedom in Russia in along with increased restrictions on political protests and opposition in 2012 from 2011.

Views of press freedom in Sudan also declined in 2012, dropping to 37% from 51% in 2010. Sudan is among Freedom House's "Worst of the Worst" list of violators of freedom of the press.

As in 2011, adults in Finland almost universally view their media as free. Nine of the 10 countries where more than 90% of residents say their media have a lot of freedom are located in Europe. Perceptions of media freedom in the United States stayed consistent in 2012, at 87%.

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Again, expert assessments from Freedom House and Reporters Without Borders for the most part concur with assessments from residents in these democratic countries. However, in Cambodia, Paraguay, Rwanda, and Thailand, more than 75% of adults say their media are free, but Freedom House rates media in these countries as "not free." Residents' perceptions of press freedom rose in Paraguay to 87% in 2012 from 76% in 2011, even after political upheaval led to a more restrictive media environment. Freedom House and Reporters Without Borders also noted declines in media freedom in Cambodia and Thailand in 2012 despite residents' positive assessments of media freedom.

For complete country-level results, see page 2.

Implications

Public opinion about press freedom serves as a useful barometer of residents' perception of the media in their countries, while evaluations from Freedom House and Reporters Without Borders provide expert appraisals of media environments. Together, these assessments allow for a comprehensive look at media systems worldwide. Dr. Karin Karlekar, project director of Freedom House's Freedom of the Press Index, in an interview with Gallup, said that, "Citizen evaluations of press freedom provide valuable insight and often validation of expert assessments, as both attempt to characterize the situation on the ground."

Lee 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 contributed to this article. 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 us.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone and face-to-face interviews with approximately 1,000 adults, aged 15 and older, conducted in 2012. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error ranged from ±2.1 percentage points to ±5.6 percentage points. 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.

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