Cynthia English, analyst at Gallup, and Dr. Lee Becker, directo of Cox Center.

Cox Center Researchers Say Media Assessments Linked to Factors Not Controlled by Media

When individuals evaluate the media in their country, they incorporate their assessments of other institutions, such as the government itself, as well as their own views about political issues, researchers at the University of Georgia and Gallup told a gathering of public opinion researchers in Chicago in November.

Drawing on data from the Gallup World Poll as well as from Gallup’s survey of governance conducted in the U.S., the team reported that countries with high levels of confidence in the media also are countries that have confidence in other key institutions, such as the government.

And they found that individual political views make a big difference in how individuals rate their media.

The data on the relationship between the views held by individuals and their assessment of the media come from the U.S. alone, but the researchers said they did not expect radically different findings in other countries.

These findings presented to the Midwest Association for Public Opinion Research by Dr. Lee B. Becker, director of the James M. Cox Jr. Center for International Mass Communication Training and Research at the University of Georgia, Cynthia English, an analyst at Gallup, based in Omaha, Neb., and Dr. Tudor Vlad, associate director of the Cox Center.

More than 150 researchers gathered for the conference, held Nov. 18 and 19 in Chicago.

The three researchers told the audience that they felt the the implications of their findings were “quite significant.”

“Shifts in society of the sort now taking place in many parts of the Arab world and in individual beliefs can be expected to predict to the shifts in media assessments,” they said.

“As citizens become more confident in institutions generally, they can be expected to become more confident in the media. And as the basic ideological perspectives of the citizens change, so will their assessments of the media.”

The researchers said they were not arguing that the content of the media plays no role in determining citizen assessment of them.

“Rather the argument is that any analysis looking at levels of media trust or confidence will be misleading if it is not informed by more detailed study of the structural context and of the beliefs of those rendering the media assessments,” they said.

They said that the relative influence of media performance, structural forces and individual attitudes on citizen assessments of the media is something yet to be explored.

The team drew on data from the Gallup World Poll, which regularly surveys adult residents in more than 160 countries and areas, representing more than 98 percent of the world’s adult population.

In each country, a standard set of core questions is fielded in each of the major languages of the respective country. The Gallup World Poll asked respondents if they have confidence in each of the following: the military, the judicial system and courts, the national government, financial institutions or banks, religious organizations, the quality and integrity of the media.

Not all seven items are asked in all countries. Due to governmental restrictions, some questions about confidence in the national government or other institutions were not asked in some countries.

Gallup also has conducted, usually on an annual basis, surveys focused on governance in the United States. The researchers used data collected Sept. 13-16 of 2010 with a national adult sample of respondents.

Respondents were asked how much trust and confidence they had in a variety of institutions, including the media.

Respondents also were asked if they think the news media are “too liberal”, “just about right”, or “too conservative” as well as a variety of questions about the role of government versus business in solving problems in the country.

The report is one in a series produced by researchers in the Cox Center, which is a unit of the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia.