Foreign Governments Increasing Influence, Credibility Among Arab World, APCO Study Reveals
Duabi, UAE (May 8, 2012) – Arab opinion leaders believe official spokespeople from foreign governments to be just as credible as Arab media outlets, according to a joint research study released today by APCO Insight®, the global opinion research division of APCO Worldwide, and the Dubai Press Club. In light of findings from the fourth edition of the “Arab Media Outlook Report 2012-2015,” the Dubai Press Club and APCO Worldwide carried out a survey examining the role and influence of foreign government spokespeople. The survey polled opinion leaders throughout the Middle East to measure the performance of official spokespeople and the extent to which the public accepts their statements as credible or reliable.
“Studies and statistics have shown that Arabic versions of foreign satellite channels do not claim large audiences, which prompted us to look at how spokespersons from foreign governments might be contributing to this trend,” said Mamoon Sbeih, managing director of APCO Worldwide in the Arab region. “But there is no clear evidence that connects spokespersons from foreign governments to the declining viewership of foreign channels. Our research shows that official spokespeople from foreign governments are clearly part of the Arab media dialogue. They frequently appear in all Arab media outlets and on talk shows and news channels.”
As individuals who speak about their country’s position and that of their foreign ministers and heads of state, official spokespersons from foreign governments possess high penetration in Arab media outlets: 80 percent of Arab opinion leaders have noticed government spokespersons throughout the past year’s coverage of events in the region. Penetration is even higher in Saudi Arabia, where 91 percent are aware of foreign government spokespersons making statements on Arab media outlets.
Delivery preferences for non-Arab spokespersons are divided among Arab opinion leaders, where 47 percent prefer that foreign spokespersons are Arabic language speakers, and 44 percent prefer that spokespersons use their native language with Arabic translations. Only 9 percent say they have no preference.
“This suggests that spokespersons should be able to present information in both formats,” says Sbeih. “While we are interested in knowing language preferences for information delivery, it is more important to understand how Arab opinion leaders assess the credibility of the information that is presented.”
Al-Arabiya tops the list of media outlets releasing statements and reports made by foreign government spokespersons in Arabic. Sixty-six percent of opinion leaders indicate that they have either seen, read or heard something issued in Al-Arabiya by an official spokesperson of a foreign government. In addition to Al-Arabiya, opinion leaders were asked awareness of foreign spokespersons in five other media outlets, including Al Jazeera Arabic, BBC Arabic, MBC, and a country’s national news channel. Media coverage varies by country, where foreign spokespersons on Al Jazeera Arabic are more prevalent in Tunisia (80 percent recall), BBC Arabic in Egypt (87 percent recall), and MBC in Saudi Arabia (81 percent recall).
When asked about the reliability of the statements made by foreign spokespersons, Arab opinion leaders put the most trust in BBC Arabic (75 percent say statements are reliable) and their national news channel (75 percent say statements are reliable). Conversely, only 33 percent of Arab opinion leaders recall foreign spokespersons on their national network. Although fewer people report awareness of statements in Arabic by foreign government spokespersons on these networks, reliability is extremely high in these situations. Foreign spokespersons able to enter the national news market and appear in Arabic on state channels are viewed as the most reliable information sources.
When seeking and receiving information on current events, opinion leaders find roundtable discussions that include both non-Arab and Arab media (mean score of 6.4) and findings from public opinion surveys (mean score of 6.3) are most valuable when discussing events in the region. Reports or statements issued by foreign government spokesperson in Arabic (mean score of 6.2), and newspaper articles from a non-Arab newspaper (mean score of 6.2) comprised the other top two mentions. Arab opinion leaders are also seeking information from a variety of sources. More than half mention co-workers (53 percent) and friends and family (51 percent) as information sources on political social events in the Arab region.
The survey also examined the credibility of both the media and non-Arab spokespersons and revealed that there is very little difference in perceptions of the reliability of information. Opinion leaders were asked to rate the credibility of the media on a zero-to-ten scale, where the average score was 5.9, slightly above the average and also showing that there is room to improve. At the country-level basis, scores are significantly higher in Egypt (mean score of 7.2) and Saudi Arabia (mean score of 6.6). Importantly, the credibility score of non-Arab spokespersons (mean score of 5.5) is not significantly different from media in general.
“This suggests that Arab opinion leaders do not make distinctions between reports delivered by Arab or foreign spokespersons,” said Sbeih.
Survey results reveal that the credibility of foreign government spokespersons is not determined by language. In fact, the majority of Arabic opinion leaders (57 percent) believe that that statements or reports issued in native languages are more credible sources of information than those delivered in Arabic (43 percent). Egypt is the only exception, where 70 percent of opinion leaders believe that the ability of foreign government spokespersons to deliver reports in Arabic credential them as more credible information sources.
Neither does fluency in Arabic improve credibility. Opinion leaders evaluated a set of characteristics based on how each would improve the credibility of non-Arab spokespersons discussing current issues in Arab media. Mastering the Arabic language (mean score of 5.9) was second from the bottom, just higher than published commentary in well-known Arabic publications (mean score of 5.8). Characteristics that most dramatically enhance credibility highlight the level of sophistication of Arab opinion leaders are looking for in their spokespersons. The top characteristic, obtaining an advanced degree in economic or political science from respected universities (mean score of 6.7), shows that credibility is enhanced when a spokesperson has a working knowledge of how the world can react to certain situations, whether they be grounded in politics or economics. The next top mention is that the spokesperson be currently serving as a high-ranking diplomat in a foreign embassy (mean score of 6.7).
Finally, the survey studied the relationship between how frequently representatives of a country contribute to Arab media outlets and the credibility of that information. The results showed that spokespeople from the United States, France and United Kingdom are well represented on Arab media outlets. For most countries, there is a linear relationship between frequency and public acknowledgement. Despite the frequent contributions of the United States and United Kingdom in Arab media outlets, they are less credible than Turkey and France.
“The influence of the United States and the United Kingdom is undeniable,” mentions Sbeih, “but Arabs are not paying as much attention, and these countries risk becoming talking heads. On the other hand, Turkey and France are well-positioned to leverage their relative credibility as an opportunity to step up media appearances and increase influence throughout the region. ”
Key findings from the research were shared as part of panel discussion at Arab Media Forum, held May 8-9 at the Grand Hyatt in Dubai. The research was presented by Brad Staples, APCO president, international, with featured remarks from Mamoon Sbeih.
“This study highlights the significant role of foreign spokespersons in a new era of Arab media and government,” said Staples, “but more importantly, it exhibits that Arabs are seeking both experience and subject-matter expertise. As the influence of foreign spokespersons increases, so do the responsibilities and expectations of Arabs.”
About this survey
This survey is based on a random sample of 235 “opinion leaders” throughout four countries in the MENA region (Tunisia, Egypt, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia). Opinion leaders are screened members of the general public and defined broadly as influential individuals that represent the top 20 percent of the population, who pay attention to current events, political issues and are engaged in the community. Respondents were administered the survey via a face-to-face interview, using a modified random-walk sampling method in major urban centers in each country. A sample of 235 is subject to a sampling error of plus/minus 6.4 percent at the 95-percent confidence interval. The sample size and sampling error for each country is Egypt: 53 (plus/minus 13.6 percent), Tunisia: 53 (plus/minus 13.6 percent), UAE: 70 (plus/minus 11.8 percent), and Saudi Arabia: 59 (plus/minus 12.9 percent) at the same confidence interval. The survey was completed April 23 – May 2, 2012. For more information, please contact Elizabeth Wolf at email@example.com.
About APCO Worldwide
Founded in 1984, APCO Worldwide is an award-winning, independently owned global communication consultancy with offices in major cities throughout the Americas, Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., APCO clients include corporations and governments; industry associations and nonprofit organizations; and six of the top 10 companies on the Fortune 500. APCO offers services related to business, industry and finance; media, public opinion and society; and government and public policy. The firm is a majority women-owned business. For more information, please visit www.apcoworldwide.com.
About Dubai Press Club
Dubai Press Club (DPC) is the Arab world's preeminent media development organization. Established in 1999 as per the directives of H.H.Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, the Club has evolved over a period of one eventful decade into the most sought after platform for heads of state, eminent government officials, intellectuals, writers and other dignitaries to reach out to the media and communicate their message. It offers unparalleled services to its journalist members. It has played a pioneering role in the development of the Arab media through a host of media development initiatives, the most vital among them being the Arab Media Forum, the Arab Journalism Award and the Arab Media Outlook. www.dpc.org.ae.