|June 12, 2002||atimes.com|
Flash: US public still uninterested in world news
By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON - Widespread predictions that the US public would become more engaged in international affairs after last September's terrorist attacks appear to have been wrong. A new survey, based on a poll of more than 3,000 adults taken in late April and early May by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, has found that the news habits of average Americans have remained largely unchanged since the attacks.
What additional interest was registered in the poll was limited to terrorism and the Middle East, and almost all of this came from the same narrow, highly educated segment of the public that has always dominated the audience for international coverage, according to an analysis of the poll by Andrew Kohut, the center's director. Two-thirds of respondents blamed a lack of background provided about international news for their own lack of interest in the subject, according to the analysis, while half said they do not monitor international news because "nothing ever changes".
The poll found that adults younger than 35, who before September 11 registered the lowest level levels of news interest compared with two previous generations at a comparable age, remain virtually as detached as ever. "There is little indication that younger baby-boomers have developed stronger news appetites," said Kohut, "despite the extraordinary events of the past year."
A companion survey of newspaper editors found that about two-thirds believed that US media coverage of international affairs was either fair or poor, while 56 percent described their own publication's coverage that way. The 218 editors surveyed worked at US newspapers with circulations of at least 30,000. Although the vast majority of editors said they believed reader interest in world events had increased as a result of the September 11 attacks, a strong majority predicted that interest would wane over time. Editors were about evenly split as to whether their newspapers should increase international coverage.
The two surveys seem destined to disappoint foreign-affairs and development experts who had hoped the attacks would make the US public more aware of the degree to which their country's security and welfare depend on events overseas. Leaders in the US Congress and the George W Bush administration have stated explicitly that this should be one lesson to be drawn from the disaster. They have boosted the defence budget by some US$50 billion, or about 14 percent, and the administration has proposed spending about 50 percent more on foreign aid over the next five years.
Superficially, the survey found a 50 percent increase in the percentage of the public that said they were following international news "very closely" compared with two years ago. The percentage rose from 14 in 2000 to 21 this spring. But the increase was heavily concentrated on the "war on terrorism" in South Asia and events in the Middle East, where as many as four out of 10 respondents said they were paying very close attention to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This is the highest proportion since the late 1980s.
The increase was made up virtually entirely of affluent, college-educated, and older people, all of whom have long shown much greater interest in international affairs than less affluent, less educated and younger citizens. "Those who are younger, less educated, and have lower incomes are not significantly more interested in overseas news coverage than they have been in the past," the survey said.
About two in five respondents said they paid close attention to events in the Middle East but only 6 percent said they did the same with respect to the recent aborted coup d'etat in Venezuela, for example, or even the recent presidential elections in France.
Taken over a period of decades, the relative lack of interest in world news coincides with declining international news coverage by newspapers and electronic media. The result has been a kind of vicious circle, particularly given the complaint by such a large percentage of respondents that they are not given the background and context needed to follow events abroad.
In other findings, the larger survey found that two major trends affecting news consumption habits in the late 1990s have leveled off. The dramatic growth in online news use has ebbed, as increases in overall Internet penetration have slowed. The survey found that about 25 percent of the public goes online for news at least three times a week, up only 2 percentage points from 2000.
In addition, the erosion of a regular audience for television network evening news, as opposed to cable news, has also abated in recent years. The viewership - about one-third of the public for each - for both kinds of news is roughly the same. Regular newspaper readership continues to decline, with only 41 percent of respondents saying they had read a paper the previous day, compared with 47 percent in 2000 and 48 percent in 1998.
(Inter Press Service)
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