Northwestern University in Qatar’s seventh annual Media Use in the Middle East survey reveals that fewer MENA nationals identify as culturally conservative, they are less likely to trust their own country’s mass media outlets, and they are more likely to get news from social media and social media influencers than newspapers.
In addition, at least half of Arab nationals in each country surveyed read posts from social media influencers, but more do so for their product and service recommendations rather than for their views. And Qataris prove to be outliers on a greater number of behavioral and attitudinal variables since a blockade was imposed on the country in 2017 by several Arab countries.
“NU-Q’s Media Use in the Middle East 2019 reveals a dynamic MENA media environment, one reflecting rapid development in technology, as well as the considerable impact of geopolitics on information consumption patterns and preferences,” said Everette E. Dennis, dean and CEO of NU-Q. “We’ve uncovered significant – and in some cases surprising – shifts in attitudes about free expression online, trust in news sources, culture, and media habits. These findings should be of great interest to scholars, businesses, governments and other thought leaders focused on the region.”
The seventh annual media use survey was conducted face-to-face (phone in Qatar) among 7,303 respondents across seven countries: Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, and United Arab Emirates. The survey was conducted by The Harris Poll from June 20 to October 06, 2019.
The report offers chapters covering bias and credibility, digital privacy, free speech, internet use, media use, news, social media, and social media influencers. There is also one section focusing just on Qatar.
Key findings from the report include:
- Cultural Attitudes. Compared to 2015, fewer nationals now describe themselves as culturally conservative, and more identity as culturally progressive. Qatar saw a dramatic drop in those self-reporting as culturally conservative – 44%, down from 75% in 2015. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia revealed a significant rise in cultural progressivism – 28% up from 15% in 2015, with cultural conservativism falling from 60% to 41% in the same time period.
- Trust in News Media. Trust in national news media – i.e., newspapers, TV and radio – fell in several countries. Qatar showed a significant drop (74% in 2017, down to 62% in 2019), as did Tunisia (56% to 44%). In contrast, trust levels in the UAE remained very high (94% in 2017 and 92% in 2019). Overall, 61% of nationals say they trust media in their own country, 48% in media from other Arab nations, and 49% in outlets from Western countries.
- Right Direction versus Wrong Track. Large majorities of Arab Gulf nationals say their country is headed in the right direction (94% in the UAE, 89% in Saudi Arabia, and 76% in Qatar). These attitudes contrast dramatically with Jordan (48%), Tunisia (24%), and Lebanon (6%).
- Social Media Influencers. At least half of Arab nationals in each surveyed country look at posts from social media influencers, with at least 1 in 5 doing so every day. In addition, more nationals turn to social media influencers for their product and service recommendations (36% in the UAE, and 24% in both Saudi Arabia and Qatar) rather than to adopt their political, religious, or cultural views (e.g., 18% of Saudis, 17% of Emiratis, and just 9% of Qataris). In most cases, more Arab nationals say they get news every day from social media influencers than from newspapers, with Qatar and Saudi Arabia being the exceptions. Instagram (30%) is the most popular platform for following social media influencers, followed by Facebook (24%) and Snapchat (20%), among nationals who use each platform.
- Freedom of Expression. Compared to 2017, more nationals in several countries say people should be allowed to criticize governments online. In Lebanon, 74% of respondents say online government criticism should be permitted, up from 70% in 2017. The figure is 59% in Saudi Arabia in 2019, up from 49%, and in Jordan, 49%, up from 30%. In the UAE, only 24% said it should be permitted (up from 12% in 2017) and in Qatar, just 26% (up from 19%). Also, more nationals in several countries say they feel comfortable talking about politics. That figure is highest in Lebanon (61%, up from 52% in 2017) and Saudi Arabia (58%, up from 51%), and lowest in Qatar (29%, up from 23%).
- Digital Privacy. Concerns among internet users about online surveillance by governments and companies has increased since 2013. Those who worry about governments checking what they do online has increased from 36% in 2013 to 43% in 2019; those who worry about companies has risen from 34% to 44%. Thirty-two percent of nationals say WhatsApp is the platform affording the most privacy, far more than the percentages who named Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Snapchat as the most privacy-protective—and the margin is wide in most countries.
- Qataris are outliers on a greater number of behavioral and attitudinal variables since a blockade was imposed on the country in 2017 by several Arab countries, including three countries in this study (Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the UAE). Compared to 2017, Qataris now spend less time online (from 45 hours per week in 2017 to 24 hours in 2019), less time with family and friends (from 43 hours to 11 hours per week with family and 13 hours to 6 hours with friends), and are less supportive of internet regulation (from 39% to 28%).
- Streaming Services. Streaming services are gaining popularity. Roughly two-thirds of Qataris, Saudis, and Emiratis report using a streaming service (like Shahid, Anghami, and Netflix, or others), a figure similar to that in the U.S. (Deloitte, 2019).
- Podcasts are more popular in the Arab region than in the U.S. Weekly podcast listenership is higher in five of the Arab countries in this study than in the U.S. (65% Saudi Arabia, 44% UAE, 43% Qatar, 29% Lebanon, 26% Tunisia vs. 22% U.S., Pew Research Center, 2019). More non-nationals than nationals listen to podcasts weekly, especially Western expats (30% Nationals, 35% Arab expats, 38% Asian expats, 60% Western expats).
The complete results of NU-Q’s seventh annual Media Use in the Middle East survey are also available on the interactive website, mideastmedia.org.