Popular pulse of the Fourth Estate
Recently, I have found myself increasingly unsure of whether I have the full picture of the rapid developments taking place around me. Even worse, I feel I do not have sufficient unbiased sources to judge the accuracy of what I hear, read or watch.
But this is not only a problem related to the media of the country I am reporting from. We now have the opportunity to access information and commentary from sources in all corners of the planet. Even the language barrier has been overcome by powerful interlanguage translation tools. Still, we increasingly find ourselves increasingly skeptical, more anxious and unsure of which information is true, let alone who is supplying us with the most unbiased judgment.
Apparently, it is not only us whose task is to sieve through an abundance of reliable and unreliable sources to construct an accurate picture but the consumers whom we are supposedly addressing and communicating our news are not convinced that what we are delivering to them is the real picture. Especially when we are reporting from countries experiencing internal or external conflicts, where the citizens are called upon urgently to make sense of a rapidly changing political landscape.
That is why it was interesting to come across a survey conducted in Spring 2017 and published now, by the well-known American Pew Research Center for Journalism and Media, whose mission is to give us “numbers, facts and trends shaping your world” as its website states. The aim of this global survey, covering 38 countries, was to measure the degree of satisfaction among the public on the way their news outlets cover news.
In Pew’s survey, which includes Turkey and Greece, we observe an overwhelming 75 percent globally want their news to be delivered in an unbiased way by their media outlets. This is fair enough, you might say, but a large percentage also thinks the news delivered to them does not report the facts in a balanced way. What is “fair” is a long discussion, but let us say it means giving equal space to pro and counter views?
A detailed analysis of the results of the survey gives us some fascinating details, such as that the degree of satisfaction of the people depends on who is running the country. So, we see that people whose favorite political party is in the government state they are more satisfied with their country’s news media.
Furthermore, on the question of whether news outlets should favor a political party, most respondents say “no.” Specifically, 75 percent of the respondents in Turkey think it is “unacceptable” that a news outlet should favor a political party with 18 percent “sometimes acceptable.” However, in India only 25 percent find a biased news outlet “unacceptable” and 41 percent think it is “sometimes permissible.” Israel also presented an interesting result, bearing in mind it claims the title of “the only real democracy in the Middle East.” The respondents were almost split in the middle. Some 47 percent said it was unacceptable and 43 percent said it was sometimes acceptable. Israel was followed by the Philippines with 52/41, Vietnam with 57/25, South Korea with 68/30 and Russia with 63/27.
Of course, education levels are an important parameter in the way people evaluate their media: The higher the education, the more demanding people are for their media to be fairer to all political parties and views represented.
The respondents were also asked to give their opinions on whether their country’s media coverage of important news was satisfactory. Most of those participating thought it was satisfactory. Some 82 percent of respondents in Turkey believe that their media outlets are responding well to significant and important events. However, respondents in Greece and South Korea are unhappy: Some 78 percent of Greek respondents reject the coverage by their local media.
Pew’s research confirmed that people around the world are overwhelmingly (78 percent) interested in national rather than international news. A more detailed look at the answers shows that people with more education are more interested in world affairs while older people prefer stories from their own country. For Turkey, the figure is impressive: Some 94 percent of news consumption is “very closely” or “somewhat closely” related to Turkey!
Another noticeable parameter of the survey relates to the responses concerning how well and accurately local news media cover stories of government officials and leaders. Turkish respondents showed they are quite satisfied with 73 percent while Greek respondents showed their dissatisfaction by 72 percent! When it comes to the question of whether local news outlets allow space for different political views to be reported fairly, Greek respondents were dissatisfied by 80 percent while Turkey was satisfied by 57 percent.
Of course, this is a general picture of the level of satisfaction over the news we deliver to the public. But all these figures will have to be weighed against a fundamental question that has been put forward since the concept of the role of the media as the Fourth Estate was established more than 200 years ago.