Trust in the news media is high across the Middle East, but significantly less so on social media, according to the fifth annual survey of media use and public opinion by Northwestern University in Qatar (NU-Q).

The survey is the only one of its kind in the region and one of the few such efforts in the world.

It offers extensive and valuable intelligence about the media that people adopt, use, and prefer as well as their attitudes and opinions about the role, impact, and importance of mediated communication in their lives and the lives of others across the Middle East region.

The study, released yesterday, explores patterns of news use, perceptions of news bias, and attitudes toward free speech in seven countries: Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, Lebanon, Jordan, Tunisia, and Egypt.

Some questions were replicated in the US for context and comparison.

NU-Q dean and chief executive Everette E Dennis said: “At a challenging time in the region and around the world, we offer these findings as impartial data for use in much-needed, considered discussion and understanding of the current media environment.”

The study indicated that Arab nationals are twice as likely as Americans to trust mass media (66% and 32%).

Two-thirds trust mass media, but fewer than half (47%) trust news they get via social media.

Two-thirds of Facebook users get news on that platform (65%).

Facebook use continues to decline in Gulf countries, with a rise in non-Gulf countries.

Two-thirds trust media from their own country, but only half trust news from other Arab countries (66%, 52%).

Americans are more likely than Arab nationals to believe that news is biased against the Arab world (33% of Arab nationals think international news is biased against the Arab world, while 43% of Americans think the same).

In comparing this year’s findings to the previous four years, NU-Q research has shown a rise in Internet penetration in every country in the region, while legacy media (TV, radio, and newspapers) remains important but there experienced a decline.

Social media platforms once dominated by Facebook with up to 90% penetration is now down to 74%, Twitter fell from 47% to 24%, while WhatsApp has 80% penetration in 2017 and Instagram has grown from 6% to 39% penetration among Internet users.

The 2017 survey, the largest annual study of its kind in the Middle East, was conducted in collaboration with Harris Poll in February and March of 2017.

Findings reflect nationally representative samples of over one thousand respondents in each country, 7,196 in total.

Interviews were conducted face-to-face in most countries, and by phone in Qatar.

Because data from Egypt were collected later in the year (June and July), it is not included in region-wide figures reported.

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