October 4, 2007

World Publics Welcome Global Trade — But Not Immigration

Chapter 7. Where People Get Their News

The world continues to turn to television for news about international and national issues except in a few African nations where radio remains the primary source of information. In some countries, virtually everyone watches television news: 99% of Indonesians as well as 97% of all Malaysians, Venezuelans and Turks name TV as one of their two primary sources for what is happening in their countries and the world. Newspapers remain a distant second choice for news in a majority of countries and continue to lose readers around the world. At the same time, online news sources are steadily gaining in popularity in North America and Western Europe and in some countries in Eastern Europe and Asia. But the internet barely registers as a place where people go for news in parts of the developing world where computer access is limited.

TV News Audience Remains Stable

Overall, fully two-thirds or more of the publics in 44 of the 47 countries surveyed say television is their first or second choice for national and foreign news. In the remaining three countries, radio dominates TV by at least a two-to-one margin (92% vs. 44% in Tanzania, 90% vs. 43% in Kenya, 91% vs. 12% in Uganda).

No clear trends emerge in the use of television news in the 35 countries where trends are available. In the past five years, the size of the audience for television news increased in 11 countries, declined in 10 and remains unchanged in 14 others. Overall, the largest increases in television news usage occurred in African countries with comparatively small viewing audiences five years ago, reflecting the effects of rapid modernization throughout the continent. In Ghana, 73% now turn to television as one of their primary sources of news, up from 57% in 2002, while in Tanzania the TV news audience increased by 15 points to 44% in the past five years.

Newspaper Audiences Decline Globally

Newspapers remain a secondary source of information in every country of the world. Only in Malaysia does the proportion of citizens who rate newspapers as their first or second choice for news come even remotely close to challenging the dominance of television (83% of Malaysians turn to newspapers while 97% prefer television). In addition to Malaysia, the countries that most rely on newspapers are India, where 75% say newspapers are one of their two primary news sources, Japan (75%) and Venezuela (73%). In contrast, fewer than one-in-five rely on newspapers as a source of information in Mali (15%), Ghana (16%) or Senegal (17%); in fact, newspapers rank third behind television and radio as a news source throughout Africa.

The broad trend away from newspapers apparent in the United States is echoed in countries throughout the world. Newspaper audience declined significantly since 2002 in 20 countries, compared to just four countries where readership grew considerably. In the United States the proportion of the public that turns to newspapers for news fell from 61% in 2002 to 47% today. The drop in the U.S. is matched by a 14-point drop in neighboring Canada and in South Korea, and is exceeded by larger declines in Turkey (-20 points), Indonesia (-18), Tanzania (-18), Bolivia (-17) and the Czech Republic (-15).

Radio Also Declines as a News Source

Outside sub-Saharan Africa, radio remains a popular but not dominant source of news in most of the world. In only two countries – Morocco (54%) and Egypt (57%) – do more than half say radio is one of their top two sources for information, considerably more than name newspapers. Similarly, radio is preferred over newspapers in Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, Jordan, the Palestinian Territories and Indonesia. But again, television is easily the most popular news medium in each of these countries.

The survey also suggests that radio currently faces a particularly difficult time in every region of the world. In the past five years, the radio has become significantly less popular as a source of news in 21 of the 35 nations where trends are available, while it has gained popularity in only four countries. In 10 countries, the size of the audience was essentially unchanged. The declines were particularly dramatic in Eastern Europe, where the proportion who turned to radio as a primary source of news has dropped by 15 percentage points in Slovakia, 14 points in Russia, 12 points in Bulgaria and 11 points in Poland since 2002.

Spread of Internet as a News Source Spotty Outside Developed World

The computer and internet revolutions are slowly changing the way the world gets its news. South Koreans are the most likely to go online for their news: fully 42% say the internet is their first or second most frequently used source for information about what is happening in their country and the world. However, in only two other countries do a third or more of the population turn to the web as frequently: the United States (35%) and the Czech Republic (34%).

Using the internet as a source for news is generally most widespread in the West and in the emerging democracies of Eastern Europe. But even here the pattern is somewhat mixed. For example, while more than one-in-five in the United States (35%), Canada (25%), and Great Britain (21%) look for news online, only 12% in Spain and 10% in Italy do so. Similarly, in Eastern Europe, about a third of Czechs (34%) but only 6% of Ukrainians and Russians say the internet is one of their top two choices for news.

Understandably, the web remains vastly untapped as a source of news in developing countries where comparatively few people use the internet. In Africa, the proportion of adults who often go online for news ranges from less than 1% in Tanzania to 13% in the Ivory Coast. The picture is mixed in the Middle East, where the internet news audience varies from 4% in Morocco to 19% in the Palestinian territories. Patterns also vary in Latin America, ranging from 4% in Mexico to 16% in Brazil.

In Asia, the contrast is even more extreme: only 1% of all Bangladeshis and 2% of Indians turn to the internet for news, compared with 20% of Japanese and 42% of South Koreans. In China, where internet usage is closely monitored by the government, about one-in-ten adults (9%) say the internet is a primary source of information, virtually unchanged from five years ago.

While still lagging far behind traditional media as a news source, the internet is steadily gaining ground, particularly in the West and the more developed countries of Asia and Eastern Europe. The proportion of Americans who get their news online has increased by double-digit margins (+18), and the same is true in the Czech Republic (+22), France (+17), Slovakia (+17), Great Britain (+13), Poland (+13), South Korea (+12), Japan (+12), Bulgaria (+11), Germany (+11) and Brazil (+11).

Majorities Regularly Follow International News

A majority of the publics in 31 of the 47 countries surveyed say they closely follow news about what is happening in the world. The most avid consumers of international news are in Western Europe, Africa and Canada: Nearly eight-in-ten Germans (79%) and nearly as many residents of Mali (75%), France (71%), Canada (70%) and Senegal (71%) pay close attention to what goes on in other countries. Interest in foreign news is significantly lower in the United States: 57% of Americans say they keep up on news from abroad, the lowest of any of its Western European allies but ahead of 27 other countries, including Russia (46%), China (51%) and Japan (52%).

Bangladeshis, Indonesians and South Koreans pay the least attention to international news. Fewer than four-in-ten in each of those countries say they follow international news most of the time. Fully six-in-ten Bangladeshis only pay attention when something important is happening, as do 58% of Indonesians, 57% of South Koreans and 46% of Pakistanis.