Dr. Bryan Reber from the University of Georgia.

Research Team Discusses Confidence in the Media at Conference in Amsterdam

Citizens around the world are able to make assessments of the amount of freedom of the countries in which they live, but the level of confidence they have in the media is unrelated to the level of freedom they think the media have.

At the same time, the public largely agrees with the assessments of independent evaluators who rate countries around the world in terms of the level of freedom.

Those evaluations of media systems by organizations such as Freedom House in New York and Reporters Without Borders in Paris also have been found to be unrelated to the levels of confidence the public expresses in the media.

These were the key findings presented at a conference in Amsterdam by a team of researchers from the James M. Cox Jr. Center for International Mass Communication Training and Research at the University of Georgia and Gallup, the international public opinion research firm based in Omaha, Neb.

About 165 public opinion researchers attended the conference, held from September 21 to 23, and sponsored by the World Association for Public Opinion Research. The local host organization was the University of Amsterdam.

The paper by the team from the University of Georgia and Gallup was one of more than 100 papers presented by researchers from North America, Europe, Asia, and South America.

Dr. Bryan Reber from the University of Georgia was among those presenting papers. His paper focused on an alternative method for measuring opinions in online surveys.

Drs. Lee B. Becker and Tudor Vlad from the University of Georgia and Cynthia English, a research specialist at Gallup, examined data gathered from surveys in 2010 in 111 countries around the world.

Dr. Becker is director of the James M. Cox Jr. Center for International Mass Communication Training and Research and Dr. Vlad is associate director of the Cox Center.

As part of the survey core of the Gallup World Poll, respondents in those 111 countries were asked if the media in their country had a lot of freedom, or not, and whether they had confidence in the quality and integrity of the media in their country.

The media freedom measure was new to the 2010 surveys, while the confidence measure has been used back through 2005.

Earlier work by the research team had focused on the correspondence between the evaluations of the public and the evaluators for Freedom House and Reporters Without Borders, who each year release a ranking for countries in terms of their level of press freedom.

In the paper at the conference in Amsterdam, the team focused on the link–or lack of a link–between public assessments of the freedom of the media and the confidence of the public in the media.

What the researchers found is that countries with high levels of confidence in their media also had high levels of confidence in other institutions, such as the national government.

They also found that confidence in institutions generally predicted to excessively positive evaluations even of the level of press freedom, while the lack of confidence predicted to excessively negative views of press freedom.

The researchers concluded that future research is needed on the link among expressions of confidence in institutions generally, for the media seem to be lumped by the public together with other institutions that they are often viewed as media adversaries.

The paper was one in a series dealing with issues of measurement of press freedom.

The Center is the international outreach arm of the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia.