At a recent Washington press conference, the Broadcasting Board of Governors and the Gallup Organization presented ways in which their new partnership better serves not only their needs but the needs of U.S. foreign policy and national security as well.
Convening in the Gallup building, 111 representatives from think tanks, academic institutions and media outlets alike listened to presentations by Michael Meehan, co-founder and CEO of Venn (Squared) Communications and member of the BBG; Bruce Sherman, director of strategy and development for the BBG; and Cynthia English, a research consultant for Gallup, who unveiled the results of a global study on audience attitudes toward the media.
The findings — that 65% of adults in 133 countries believe their nation’s media has “a lot of freedom” — were based on telephone and face-to-face interviews conducted from February–December, 2011, translating the basic question of “does your country have a lot of freedom or not” into 59 languages, speaking with approximately 1,000 adults (age 15 and older) per country.
In general, peoples’ perceptions matched the assessment of experts like Freedom House. It was highest, overall, in developed countries in Asia, Europe and North America. Topping the media public confidence scale were Finland, 97%; Netherlands, 96% and Australia, 94%. The U.S. was 87%.
On the other hand, countries from the former Soviet Union, and nations across the Middle East and parts of Africa had far less confidence in their media. At the bottom of the scale was Belarus, with 23% of respondents who believe media in their country have a lot of freedom. It was followed by Gabon, with 27% and Armenia, 29%. Countries left out of the study included Somalia and North Korea.
One of the most interesting details, highlighted by English at the event, was how the social change of the “Arab Spring” last year had affected perceptions of media differently in Egypt, Tunisia and Bahrain. In Egypt, confidence in media went up; in Tunisia, where ruler President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was overthrown, and Bahrain, where protestors numbered more than 100,000 at a time, confidence went down.
Ben Sherman cited Nigeria as a success story for the BBG in combining tactical research and outreach — it has Voice of America’s largest listener group in Africa, with a weekly audience of 20 million. “We use the work of great journalism… to drive support of freedom and democracy in the world,” he said.
Frequently invoked during the morning’s proceedings was Gallup’s founder, George Gallup, who said, “If Democracy is about the Will of the people, then somebody should go and find out what that Will is.”