Dr. Lee B. Becker at the Midwest Association for Public Opinion Research conference.

Elite Evaluators and Public Differ In Some Assessments Of Media Freedom, And That Is Informative, Research Team Reports

While evaluators at Freedom House and Reporters Without Borders largely agree with the general public in their assessments of media freedom in countries around the world, the discrepancies are informative, a research team reported at a meeting of public opinion researchers in November.

The team examined discrepant cases to determine if outliers represented methodological errors, cases where the public either lagged behind the elite assessments or anticipated them, or cases where there was a substantive difference between the elite and the public because they were measuring different things.

The last of these explanations seems to be the likely one, given the data available, the researchers reported.

The research team was made up of Dr. Lee B. Becker from the University of Georgia, Cynthia English from the Gallup organization, Karin Deutsch Karlekar from Freedom House, and Dr. Tudor Vlad from the University of Georgia.

They compared the evaluations by Freedom House and Reporters Without Borders, nongovernmental organizations involving media freedom assessment and advocacy, and public opinion data gathered by Gallup as part of the World Poll.

The correlations between the assessments of the elite evaluators and the public were quite high, but they were not perfect.

The team isolated cases that were discrepant to try to find explanations for the differences. They concluded that the public and professional evaluators sometimes assess media freedom differently because they come to the task from different perspectives.

In some cases, for example, the public sees social institutions more critically and includes the media in that group. In others, the public is more accepting of the media’s limitations than are the elite evaluators.

The research is part of a program of research assessing media freedom indicators undertaken in the James M. Cox Jr. Center for International Mass Communication Training and Research at the University of Georgia.

Dr. Becker is director of the Cox International Center, and Dr. Vlad is associate director. English is a research analyst at Gallup with responsibilities for the Gallup World Poll. Karlekar directs the press freedom assessment project at Freedom House.

The Cox International Center is a unit of the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia.

The team presented the paper at the gathering of academic and commercial public opinion researchers, which met on Nov. 21 and 22 at the Renaissance Chicago Downtown Hotel. A total of 235 researchers attended the meeting.

For a copy of the paper presented by the research team, click here.