From left to right: Dr. Lee B Becker, Ms. Oana Vlad and Dr. Tudor Vlad.

Researchers Explain How Citizens Assess Media Freedom Around The World

When citizens around the world evaluate the level of media freedom in their own country, they are thinking not only about the media themselves but also about their own life experiences and their satisfaction with the country as a whole.

That was the conclusion reached by researchers at the University of Georgia and Gallup from their analysis of responses of citizens to surveys conducted in more than 100 countries around the world.

Dr. Lee B. Becker, Cynthia English and Dr. Tudor Vlad presented these findings to the annual conference of the Midwest Association for Public Opinion Research, which met on Nov. 16 and 17 in Chicago.

Dr. Becker is 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. Dr. Vlad is associate director of the Cox International Center.

English is research consultant with Gallup, based on Omaha, Neb.

Citizens are mostly responding to the actual level of media freedom in their country when they tell survey interviews how free the media are, Dr. Becker told those attending a session on News Makers and News Takers.

Most of the variance in the measure of public opinion about press freedom is explained by the actual performance of the media, as measured by the Freedom House measure of press freedom.

But respondents are also thinking “about their lives and the institutions that serve them,” Dr. Becker said.

The research team used data gathered as part of 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.

Data on public assessments of media freedom were available for 108 countries in 2010 and 126 in 2011.

The researchers used data from Freedom House, a nongovernmental agency based in New York, to assess the “real” level of press freedom in the countries. They were interested in what factors explained how citizens assessed the level of media freedom other than the “reality” of media freedom as measured by Freedom House.

What they found is that, in those countries in which people feel safe walking in the city or area in which they live, citizens are more likely to rate the media highly in terms of the level of freedom.

Similarly, in those countries in which citizens have a lot of confidence in the honesty of elections, the media are rated highly in terms of freedom.

More than 200 persons attended the conference, representing universities and survey research organizations around the country.

Following the conference, Dr. Becker was able to meet Oana Vlad, daughter of Dr. Vlad and a former undergraduate research clerk in the Cox Center. Ms. Vlad was in Chicago for business purposes.