New perspectives are needed when it comes to analysing media consumption in light of the Arab uprisings. A recent project from a university in Qatar seems to offer some refreshing insight.
Since the outburst of the Arab Spring, the focus of academic and public discourse on the relationship between Middle Eastern countries and the media has been centered on the role played by media outlets and social networks in fostering and promoting the uprisings. As this subject has been mined to exhaustion over the last two years, the Northwestern University in Qatar (NU-Q) provides us with a refreshing perspective on the issue of media and its perceived reliability and trustworthiness in the Arab world.
In collaboration with Harris Interactive, a public opinion firm, NU-Q embarked upon the ambitious project of trying to assess not only the extent to which people in the Arab world make use of media outlets, but also to what extent they find them to be reliable and trustworthy.
The survey, which involved a total of 9,693 respondents across Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Tunisia, Qatar and the UAE, was conducted over the span of approximately two months in early 2013.
The results proved to be intriguing and all but obvious: while there seems to be a general perception of an increase in quality news reporting around the Middle East, the survey also highlighted a glaring contradiction to this idea - “respondents in countries that recently underwent revolution trust media less than those living in monarchies”.
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Two years after the toppling of the Mubarak and Ben Ali regimes in Egypt and Tunisia, these two countries, together with Lebanon (where the press is regarded to be one of the freest amongst its neighbors), rank the lowest not only in terms of appreciation of the quality of news broadcasted, but also in terms of perceived credibility.
On the other hand, credibility and reliability of media outlets seem to be perceived at their highest in countries which are acknowledged to be under almost total control of the ruling regimes, such as in Saudi Arabia and in the United Arab Emirates.
Television comes out as the undisputed champion in terms of both perceived reliability and media consumption; only Bahrainis seem to perceive the Internet as being a more reliable source than television. By a minute percentage, TV triumphs over the World Wide Web as the overwhelmingly most important source of news everywhere but in Qatar and Bahrain, where the Internet outperforms by a very narrow margin.
In terms of social network usage, the findings do not come as a surprise: nearly every single one of the interviewed social network users declared having a Facebook account, and just over half of them are on Twitter. Instagram and Linkedin are left trailing behind with 14% and 6% of users respectively, which could potentially be explained by those social networks' recent advent.
A last finding shows that the majority of internet users in the Arab world would like to be able to express their opinions online, regardless of what those opinions might be. In an odd turn, half of them also believe that the Internet should be more tightly regulated, though the question appears very broad, and the study does not specify in what terms these regulations should be imposed.
Alice Curci is studying Middle East and Mediterranean Studies at King's College, London. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.