Recognizing a need for systematic data to track media use and attitudes in the Middle East, Northwestern University in Qatar (NU-Q) and Doha Film Institute (DFI) undertake this study for the benefit of academia, media industries, other institutions, and the public at large. We do so both in our own self-interest as institutions devoted to learning and advancing knowledge about media and as a public service making data available to researchers and citizens everywhere.
The annual Media Use in the Middle East survey, moves beyond an individual faculty enterprise to bring together and reflect efforts from throughout the whole school to develop and disseminate this distinctive institutional NU-Q product. It is both a research deliverable and a basis for thoughtful leadership and discussion with media experts across the Middle East region. The collaborative research process includes considerable consultation with students and with expert members of the NU-Q faculty, several of whom are noted authorities not only on media, but also on cultural and legal trends across the Middle East region.
With some oversight from Dean Dennis, the work is mostly the product of two able and energetic NU-Q colleagues, Justin Martin and Robb Wood. They were assisted this year by Marium Saeed, an NU-Q graduate. Their work, which draws from the knowledge of many constituencies, represents the best of rigorous, rapid-response research and is a model for timely, real-time results. The study is refined and conceptualized in early fall, fieldwork and data collection are carried out in winter, and by spring, results are analyzed and the report is written.
DFI’s support of and work on these entertainment-focused surveys both for 2014 and 2016 represent one way to contribute the insights and professional expertise accumulated at the Institute since its founding. Institutional, hands-on knowledge of the region’s entertainment industry accumulates with each project, program, and event, and consultations on the survey throughout the year have proven an effective way to put this knowledge into a broader, useful context. We thank DFI’s working group including Khalil Benkirane, Chadi Zennedine, Lauren Mekhael, and Hanaa Issa, and others who have participated in both the drafting and refinement of survey questions and in the interpretation of results.
From the beginning, the Harris Poll (now part of the The Nielsen Company) has carried out the fieldwork and been thoughtful colleagues in the reporting process. Their work in securing permissions to conduct the survey is notable in a region where such authorization is not easy.
The data we gather goes well beyond Qatar and the Middle East, as it contributes to the World Internet Project of which NU-Q is a member and which provides us access to the global resources of that collaborative enterprise led by Jeffrey Cole of the University of Southern Annenberg School’s Center for the Digital Future.
Each year, this study is presented at the Qatar Media Industry Forum, a group that brings together leading individuals and organizations from across Qatar’s growing media sector, as well as at Northwestern’s home campus in Evanston, Illinois, and at several academic meetings. Over the years, the academic audiences have included the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC), the International Communications Association (ICA), and the American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR). This year the report was previewed at the International Press Institute’s World Congress and at the World Media Forum and will also be presented at AEJMC and the International Association for Mass Communication Research (IAMCR).
We are especially pleased that students and faculty members at NU-Q and at other universities are using the data for secondary analysis, creatively repurposing the material, raising new questions about the data and their meanings. Media professionals in industries ranging from satellite television to film production and the public sector, report that they, too, use the material as part of their decision-making processes.
In sum, it is our hope that this 2016 edition of Media Use in the Middle East will contribute to a continuing conversation among scholars, professionals, institutions, and individuals leading to a greater understanding of how people use and interact with media.
As always, we welcome comments and questions, knowing that previous comments and questions have redounded to improvements and refinements in the study.
This study and the three that preceded it, as well as our other collaborative study on the Middle East’s media industries, are found along with interactive features that empower users to explore specific topics in great depth, at www.mideastmedia.org.
Everette E. Dennis, Fatma Al Remaihi,
Dean and CEO, Northwestern University in Qatar CEO, Doha Film Institute
Any understanding of the role communication media play among individuals, institutions, nation-states, and society itself requires grounding in how people use media to communicate with others and seek news, opinions, entertainment, and even commercial messages.
These objectives guide Northwestern University in Qatar’s annual Media Use in the Middle East studies. This 2016 report continues to chart a course toward fuller appreciation of media of all kinds, from so-called legacy or traditional media to digital and social media and direct messaging. This survey, conducted in six countries—Egypt, Lebanon, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, and the United Arab Emirates—among over 6,000 individuals contributes to a portrait of regional differences and change, sometimes incremental, sometimes dramatic, and therefore is the preeminent study of media use in Arab countries. Generous funding comes from a continuing grant from the Qatar National Research Fund and from our partner in both the 2014 and 2016 surveys, Doha Film Institute.
When after a year of careful study, the first Media Use in the Middle East survey was published in 2013, we were conscious of the digital divide between media-rich and media-poor nations represented in our sample. In the days after the Arab revolutions of 2011 and beyond, the degree to which people could participate in the communication process and express themselves freely was and is an important indicator not just of media use per se, but of freedom of expression itself.
In 2013 and 2015 the study was titled, Media Use in the Middle East; the 2014 effort was designated Entertainment Media Use in the Middle East, reflecting different emphases of the effort in an alternate year. We alternate the focus of our Media Use studies somewhat each year to reflect the interests of the degree programs in our school—one in journalism and one in communication.
In odd-numbered years, the study examines news and information use as well as related cultural and political attitudes. Among the social science indicators in those surveys are online political efficacy, perceptions of media credibility, and beliefs about media bias. In even-numbered years, the study focuses on entertainment media use, including film, television, music, video games, and many forms of digital media. We also give treatment to attitudes about government regulation of sensitive material, appraisals of the moral values in films from different parts of the world, and perceptions of benefits to viewing entertainment from outside the region.
It is too often assumed anyone can communicate via the internet or share in the benefits of easily available newspapers and free-to-air television or radio; this is not always true. Lower internet penetration and mobile broadband access in countries like Egypt and Tunisia, for example, stand in sharp contrast to that of the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar.
The 2016 report brings some good news about a narrowing digital divide between these countries, along with significant gains in internet connectivity in every country studied except Tunisia, where internet access has stagnated since 2014. Six in 10 Egyptians now use the internet, considerably more than the share of Tunisians online, but just three in 10 Egyptians have access to, or choose to use mobile broadband. It is ironic that the two countries most closely linked to the Arab uprisings—Tunisia, where the uprisings began and Egypt, location of the most publicized revolution—are still struggling to be fully enfranchised into the digital age.
Where access to digital content is a given, some observers express concern that the availability of news and entertainment from outside Arab countries erodes ties to one’s own culture and history. While it is true people in the Middle East have more media choices than ever, this has not impaired local media creation and appeal. In fact, the opposite may be true. Interest in and consumption of media from the Arab world is increasing. Arab consumers may be intrigued by Hollywood action films, Turkish dramas, and the pageantry of Bollywood, but they also want news and entertainment that is locally produced and sensitive to cultural norms and traditions. Furthermore, the idea that English is becoming the universal language is not borne out in these data, as almost all national respondents in our surveys continue to access content in Arabic.
Other findings of note involve media-government relations in a region where censorship and regulation have been prevalent. Tension persists between the government as a regulator of content and access on the one hand, and the ability of individuals on the other hand, to make their own content choices. As in much of the rest of the world, Arab views on regulation and censorship are mixed, and many respondents worry about government surveillance. At the same time, however, support persists for a government role in guiding people away from objectionable content.
The 2016 study that follows is people-centric, based on interviews with some 6,000 people in and across six countries, delving into significant, big-picture issues such as cultural attitudes, censorship and regulation, and perceptions of progress in one’s own country, in addition to probing barometers of online and social media use, film and TV viewing, music listening, sports interest, news use, and more.
This study provides a comprehensive portrait of media use in a fast-growing region with media industries on the move. How these industries are changing is the focus of a related study released in March 2016 by NU-Q, also in partnership with Doha Film Institute. The Media Industries in the Middle East report draws on interviews with media leaders and executives, rather than with citizens and residents. That study measures sectors in regional as well as national markets, but it also includes in-depth data from the same six countries studied here.
Readers will note that, as always, we have a separate chapter on media use and attitudes highlighting the State of Qatar, where our university is located and where the funding for this study is derived. While data from Qatar are found in all the other chapters of this report, we believe it is important and useful to deeply analyze our home turf, for the benefit of our students and faculty as well as for the media executives and professionals in our own community.
Qatar is also a propitious case study as a media-rich Gulf nation home to Al Jazeera, and what we call a de facto media city. Any assessment of media in Qatar, however, has connections to the rest of the region and to the global community. This work is a useful resource for the many conversations, meetings, workshops, and conferences we have in-country.
The text that follows offers, as comprehensively as possible, a unified look at media habits and relevant, related attitudes. The template here features the core questions asked in the survey accompanied by explanatory text and analysis. Commentators have called these studies the most comprehensive ever conducted in the region and on a par with similar studies elsewhere. If the yield of this work is greater understanding of dynamic and disruptive media systems in a complex region, then it will have succeeded.
This publication was made possible by NPRP grant #7-1757-5-5261 from the Qatar National Research Fund (a member of Qatar Foundation). The statements made herein are solely the responsibility of the authors.
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This study was conducted by Northwestern University in Qatar in partnership with Doha Film Institute, and led by:
Everette E. Dennis is dean and CEO of Northwestern University in Qatar. He has extensive international experience with media in Eastern Europe, Latin America, and East Asia as having had assignments in Africa, Russia and Western Europe. He is a lifetime member of the Council on Foreign Relations and has served as a trustee of the International Institute of Communications. He has held professorships at four US universities and is the author of some 45 books on media industries, media law, freedom of expression, journalistic practice and related topics. He was senior vice president of the Gannett and Freedom Forum foundations and is a past president of the Association for Education in Journalism & Mass Communication. He holds a PhD from the University of Minnesota and has advanced fellowships at Harvard, Stanford and the East-West Center.
Justin D. Martin is an assistant professor of journalism at Northwestern University in Qatar who studies media and politics in the Arab world. A Fulbright scholar, he speaks multiple dialects of Arabic and has lived and worked in Jordan, Egypt and Qatar. He is a former columnist for Columbia Journalism Review, who reported on journalism and freedom of speech from the Middle East, Africa, and Europe. Martin's PhD is from the journalism school at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. firstname.lastname@example.org, @Justin_D_Martin
Robb Wood is director of strategic partnerships at Northwestern University in Qatar. At NU-Q he builds partnerships between the university and leading private and public institutions, including research collaborations and strategy workshop programs with industry executives. He has managed and co-authored NU-Q’s Media Use in the Middle East as well as Media Industries in the Middle East. Wood was a University Fellow at George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs, where he received his Master’s degree; he received his bachelor’s degree in Political Science and Religion from Middlebury College. email@example.com, @RobbWood
Marium Saeed, a recent graduate of Northwestern University in Qatar (Class of 2015), served as research assistant and contributed significantly to this report.
Dennis, E. E., Martin, J. D., & Wood, R. (2016). Media use in the Middle East, 2016: A six-nation survey. Northwestern University in Qatar. Retrieved from www.mideastmedia.org/survey/2016.
Dennis, Everette E., Justin D. Martin, and Robb Wood. “Media Use in the Middle East, 2016: A Six-Nation Survey.” Northwestern University in Qatar. 2016. http://mideastmedia.org/survey/2016.
Dennis, Everette E., Justin D. Martin, and Robb Wood. Media Use in the Middle East, 2016: A Six-Nation Survey. Northwestern University in Qatar, 2016. Web. <www.mideastmedia.org/survey/2016>.