Overview: Media Use in the Middle East, 2017

Below are the key findings from this study, which are explored in detail in each chapters. See the data interactive to custom-filter and explore the results directly.

Media Use by Platform

  • Compared to five years ago, internet penetration rose in all six countries surveyed and most dramatically in Jordan, Lebanon, and Tunisia.
  • Smartphone ownership tracks closely with internet use in the six surveyed countries. Nearly all nationals in Lebanon, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE own a smartphone compared with 83% of Jordanians and 65% of Tunisians.
  • Use of Arabic online has increased proportionally with the increase in internet users. In comparison, use of the internet in English remains essentially flat, 25% in 2013 and 28% in 2017, despite the increase in internet use.
  • As internet penetration rises, nationals are less likely to be using offline media platforms compared with 2013. Most nationals still watch TV, but the rate has declined modestly since 2013 (98% in 2013 vs. 93% in 2017). Rates of newspaper readership, however, declined more sharply from 47% in 2013 to 25% in 2017. Radio and magazines have also become less popular in the past five years (radio: 59% in 2013 vs. 49% in 2017; magazines: 26% in 2013 vs. 19% in 2017).

News Consumption

  • Digital news consumption across the Arab region is high and growing. Over three-quarters of nationals get news on their phones and two-thirds do so at least once a day (77% at all, 67% daily). Using smartphones for daily news checks is second only to accessing news on TV (78% TV).
  • In Jordan, Lebanon, and Tunisia, nationals get news more frequently from TV than online sources, while larger proportions of Qataris, Saudis, and Emiratis turn to the internet more than TV for news.
  • Nationals hesitate to pay for news content. Majorities in Jordan (74%), Lebanon (75%), Qatar (71%), and Tunisia (61%) are unwilling to pay for any news, be it digital, TV, newspapers, or magazines. Since 2015, their willingness to pay for content dropped by 27 percentage points in Lebanon to just 23% and by 47-points in Qatar to only 24%.
  • When asked about their favorite news organization, majorities of nationals prefer a news organization based in their home country, except in Saudi Arabia (62% regional average vs. 38% KSA).

Internet Use

  • Time spent online correlates positively with the number of years using the internet. Nationals new to the internet (1 year) spend about eight hours a week online. This jumps to 14 hours per week for those who have spent two years using the internet and again rises to about 21 hours per week among those who have been online between three to seven years. Those with 10 or more years of internet experience spend about 29 hours per week online.
  • Since 2015, the percentage of nationals using smartphones to connect to the internet rose by 13 percentage points, while the percentage using laptops or computers fell by 11 percentage points.
  • Nearly one in four nationals say the internet increases their contact with people who hold political and religious beliefs different from their own (23% different political beliefs, 24% different religious beliefs). More highly educated internet users (secondary education or higher) are twice as likely as those with the least education (primary or less) to engage online with people who have different viewpoints on religion and politics.

Social Media

  • WhatsApp tops the list of social media used by nationals across the region with two-thirds of nationals using it, compared to a marginally lower rate for Facebook and only one-half using YouTube (67% WhatsApp, 63% Facebook, 50% YouTube).
  • Facebook penetration declined across countries by at least 10 percentage points since 2015, except in Lebanon where Facebook use remains stable. In Qatar and Saudi Arabia, penetration dropped by over 20 percentage points since 2015 to 22% in Qatar and 55% in Saudi Arabia.
  • The broadest trust among nationals for complete, accurate, and fair news coverage is for both mass media in general and for mass media in their own country—two-thirds trust these sources—while about half trust other mass media in the Arab world, media from Western countries, or social media (66% trust mass media in general, 66% mass media in their own country vs. 52% mass media in the Arab world outside their country, 49% mass media in Western countries, 47% social media).
  • Currently, half of direct messages sent and received are in group chats and half are between individuals. This represents a significant increase in group messaging—an increase of 15 to 42 percentage points in all countries except Qatar. Qatar is the only country where group messaging decreased since 2015 (by 14 percentage points) to one-third of all direct messaging.


  • Nearly three-quarters of internet users across the region use Wi-Fi or mobile data services to connect to the internet. However, Wi-Fi use varies by country, from less than half of Jordanians to two-thirds of Tunisians and nine in ten across the other nations (40% Jordan vs. 63% Tunisia, 91% Lebanon, 87% Qatar, 84% KSA, 97% UAE).
  • Nationals who get news via smartphone at least once a day are also more likely to get news via other platforms—both digital and offline—on a daily basis.
  • Just over half of nationals use news apps, and just over one-quarter use them daily. Using news apps is most popular in Saudi Arabia and the UAE and least popular in Qatar (use at all: 85% KSA, 86% UAE vs. 52% Jordan, 49% Tunisia, 42% Lebanon, 33% Qatar).

Free Speech

  • Three times as many nationals think people should be able to publicly criticize the government’s policies than should be allowed to make offensive statements about one’s religion and beliefs or about minorities.
  • Two-thirds of Lebanese support the right to publicly criticize government policies and just one-third say the government has the right to prevent such critiques. Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and especially the UAE represent the opposite end of the spectrum, with about one-quarter of Qataris and Saudis and only 14% of Emiratis believing people should have the freedom to criticize government policies.
  • Across the region, those with the lowest education (primary or less) are the least likely to agree people should be able to express unpopular ideas, criticize government, or speak their minds about politics online—by about 20 percentage points compared to those with more education.
  • While younger nationals are more likely to support free speech online, higher percentages of younger nationals also express concerns about online monitoring by governments and companies (governments: 27% 45+ year-olds vs. 35% 18-24 year-olds, 39% 25-34 year-olds, 38% 35-44 year-olds; companies: 28% vs. 41%, 43%, 42%, respectively).
  • Roughly half of nationals support tighter internet regulation for political content, culturally sensitive content, and cost (making sure the internet is affordable), while close to six in 10 support tighter regulation to protect the privacy of online users.

Online Privacy

  • Only one in five nationals say that concerns about privacy have changed the way they use social media, ranging from the broadest change in social media behavior among Jordanians and Emiratis to more limited impact among Lebanese (31% Jordan, 30% UAE vs. 15% Lebanon).
  • Nationals who worry about governments checking what they do online are more likely to be Facebook users than those who are not worried but less likely to be WhatsApp or Instagram users (Facebook: 75% worried  vs. 66% not worried; WhatsApp: 71% worried vs. 79% not worried; Instagram: 34% worried vs. 42% not worried).
  • American internet users express more concern about online surveillance by both governments and companies compared with Arab internet users. Half of American internet users worry about governments and six in 10 worry about corporations checking their online activity (2015: government: 39% Middle East vs. 49% U.S; companies: 43% Middle East vs. 60% U.S.).

Bias and Credibility

  • Since 2013, perceptions of news credibility increased in most countries but fell in Jordan and Saudi Arabia (Lebanon: 25% in 2013 vs. 38% in 2017; Qatar: 57% vs. 62%; Tunisia: 23% vs. 45%; UAE: 73% vs. 85%; Jordan 66% vs. 38%; KSA: 73% vs. 59%). Two-thirds of Arab nationals overall say they trust mass media such as newspapers, TV, and radio to report news fully, fairly, and accurately. In comparison, a 2016 Gallup poll revealed that just 32% of Americans trust the mass media (Gallup, 2016).
  • Two-thirds of nationals say they trust mass media from their own country compared to only half who trust media from other Arab or Western countries.
  • A majority of Qataris feel international news organizations’ coverage of Qatar is fair (60%). Four in 10 Emiratis and Saudis say international news is fair or biased in favor of their countries, and almost no Emiratis perceive a negative bias (UAE: 42% biased in favor, 49% fair, 6% against; KSA: 40% biased in favor, 40% fair, 18% against). In contrast, more than half in Lebanon believe coverage is biased against their country (53%).

Focus on Qatar

  • Snapchat has increased in popularity in all countries since 2015, but Qataris are still far more likely to use Snapchat than nationals from any other country (64% Qatar vs. 51% KSA, 51% UAE, 20% Lebanon, 16% Jordan, 7% Tunisia).
  • Not only are most Qataris online, they also spend a lot of time on the internet. Qataris estimate they spend an average of 45 hours per week on the internet compared with just 27 hours among other nationals.
  • Qataris are only half as likely as other nationals to express concern about companies checking what they do online. They are also less likely to be worried about online surveillance compared to expatriates living in Qatar.
  • Qatar is the only country where a majority of nationals feel news coverage of their country is fair (60% Qataris vs. 35% other nationals).
  • Two-thirds of Qataris get news on their smartphone, a rate lower than nationals from all other countries except Tunisia (67% Qatar, 62% Tunisia vs. 77% Jordan, 76% Lebanon, 94% KSA, 98% UAE).

Global Comparisons

  • Two-thirds of Lebanese and one-half of Tunisians think people should be able to publicly criticize the government’s policies, while those in the Gulf states are much less likely to agree (2017: 66% Lebanon, 48% Tunisia vs. 27% KSA, 21% Qatar, 14% UAE). In comparison, nearly all Americans believe in the freedom of people to publicly criticize the government’s policies.
  • Six in 10 U.S. internet users, compared with just one-third in Arab states, worry about companies monitoring their online activity.
  • In a 2016 Gallup poll, just 32% of Americans said they trust the mass media compared with two-thirds or more in Jordan, Lebanon, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, and 58% in Tunisia.
  • Nearly all nationals in Lebanon, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE own a smartphone and nearly as many Jordanians. In comparison, only 77% of Americans own a smartphone; only Tunisians own smartphones at a lower rate (65%).
  • Internet users in the U.S. use email at much higher rates than those in the Middle East. Eighty-five percent of internet users in the U.S. check email every day compared to only three in 10 in the Middle East.

Focus on Egypt

  • Support for freedom of speech online fell significantly in Egypt since 2013. In that year, roughly half (48%) of Egyptians said it’s okay for people to express their ideas on the internet even if they are unpopular, but just 29% of Egyptians said the same in 2017.  
  • Even in the digital age, Egyptians spend more time face-to-face with family in 2017 than 2013. Despite the doubling of internet penetration in Egypt since 2013, the average number of hours Egyptians report spending face-to-face with relatives increased from 9 in 2013 to 20 in 2015 and 31 in 2017.
  • While Facebook penetration is falling in most other Arab countries in this study, it rose significantly among Egyptians. In 2013, 81% of Egyptian internet users said they use Facebook, but that number rose to 93% in 2017.
  • Fewer than 1 in 4 Egyptians used the internet in 2013, but half of all Egyptians are online in 2017 and nearly 6 in 10 own smartphones (57%).