Claudia Lago (left), author of the chapter from Brazil, and Beate Josephi (right), book editor

Confidence in Media Related to Press Freedom in a Complex Way, New Study Finds

In countries where citizens perceive that others are afraid to express their political views, confidence in the quality and integrity of the media increases as press freedom increases.

In countries where citizens perceive that others are not afraid to express their political views, confidence in the quality and integrity of the media decreases as press freedom increases.

This complex relationship between confidence in the media and societal measures of press freedom was revealed in a paper presented by researchers at the University of Georgia and at Gallup at the conference of the International Association for Media and Communication Research in Portugal in July.

Drawing on data from the Gallup World Poll conducted in countries around the world from 2005 to 2009, the researchers untangled a previously perplexing finding that citizen assessments of confidence in the media was unrelated to expert assessments of press freedom.

The researchers, drawing most heavily on data from 2007, 2008 and 2009, when more than 100 countries were surveyed in the Gallup World Poll, showed that--in each of those years-- how the survey respondents viewed the ability of citizens to speak out on political issues was key.

In repressive societies, based on this standard, citizens do have more confidence in the media if they operate freely and independently.

In free societies, however, the reverse is true. Then citizens have less confidence in the media if the media operate freely and independently.

Researchers Lee B. Becker, Tudor Vlad and Cynthia English said they feel the explanation is that in the repressive societies, the citizens view media criticism of their governmental institutions favorably.

When societies are truly open, however, the constant media criticism of the other institutions of society is viewed negatively by citizens.

Becker is director and Vlad is associate director of the James M. Cox Jr. Center for International Mass Communication Training and Research, a unit of the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia.

English is a consultant in the Social and Economic Analysis Division of Gallup in its Omaha, Neb., office.

Becker presented the paper for the team at the meeting held in Braga from July 18 to 22 at the campus of the University of Mindho.

More than 1,200 scientists from 80 countries around the world participated in the conference.

Becker presented the paper to the Journalism Research and Education Section of the organization.

At another session organized by the section, Becker joined Beate Josephi from Edith Cowan University in Australia in launching a book, Journalism Education in Countries with Limited Media Freedom.

The book is the first in a new series of books with Peter Lang, a publisher in New York. Becker is editor of the series.

Vlad has a chapter in the book focusing on journalism education in his native Romania.

Josephi is the editor of the just-published book, and she relied on Freedom House, a New York-based research organization concerned with press freedom, as a way of indexing press freedom around the world.

Becker and Vlad have been working for more than a half dozen years on ways to assess the measures of press freedom used by Freedom House and other similar organizations.

The analysis of the Gallup World Report data was one step in that assessment. The two argue that if citizen assessments of the media match generally with assessments by elite evaluators such as those of Freedom House, that suggests confidence in the elite measures is appropriate.

English first reported the null finding of a relationship between the Gallup confidence measure and press freedom and then joined with Becker and Vlad in the effort to untangle and explain the finding.