Northwestern University in Qatar’s sixth annual Media Use in the Middle East survey found that majorities of nationals in most of the countries surveyed generally support online freedom of expression and there has been an increase in the percentage of nationals who feel that film and TV content from the U.S./Hollywood is good for morality. 

“NU-Q’s Media Use in the Middle East 2018: A Seven-Nation Survey is a comprehensive resource for scholars, as well as business, government and other thought leaders seeking to better understand and engage with the region,” said Everette E. Dennis, dean and CEO of NU-Q. “Since 2013, NU-Q has selected six to eight countries to approximate a reasonable representation of public opinion on media use and related topics in a turbulent and complex region. Six years of feedback suggests that our research has generated useful and discerning findings.” 

The participating countries Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Qatar, Tunisia, UAE, and Saudi Arabia represent a cultural and geopolitical cross-section of the MENA region.

The 155-page report, published in English and Arabic, offers chapters covering cultural attitudes, censorship and digital privacy, media use by platform, online and social media, film, TV, music and podcasts, games, sports, and news, as well as one section focusing just on Qatar. 

In addition to charts and summaries, the report also features guest commentary from such experts as the University of Maryland’s Shibley Telhami, Rice University’s Kristian Ulrichsen, Al Jazeera English’s Leah Harding, the Doha Film Institute’s Fatma Al Remaihi, the Annenberg School for Communication’s Marwan M. Kraidy, Al-Fanar Media’s Ursula Lindsey, the University of Essex’s Fatima el Issawi, Georgetown University in Qatar’s Mohamed Zayani and Mehran Kamrava, and NU-Q’s Eric Espig and Craig LaMay.

Key findings from the report include:

  • Cultural Attitudes. Fewer nationals now than in 2014 say films and TV content from the Arab region are good for morality, while more nationals say such content from the U.S./Hollywood is good for morality.
  • Censorship & Digital Privacy. Majorities of nationals in most countries support online freedom of expression generally; yet minorities of nationals in three countries—Qatar, Tunisia, and UAE—say people should be free to criticize governments online, whereas majorities of nationals only in Saudi Arabia and Lebanon say the same.
  • Media Use by Platform. More nationals in 2018 than in 2016 say they paid for online music, sports, or film content in the past year, though the figures for each are below 10 percent.  
  • Online & Social Media. Facebook penetration continues to fall among nationals in all countries. In 2013, 88 percent or more of internet users in these Arab countries used Facebook. In 2018, three countries reported Facebook penetration rates lower than 50 percent, including just nine percent in Qatar, the lowest known figure in any high-income country. In addition, Twitter penetration in Arab countries has plummeted dramatically.
  • Film. The percentage of nationals who watch films in a cinema has increased in several countries since 2014 (UAE, Qatar, and Tunisia). Even in Saudi Arabia, where cinemas were only reintroduced to the public in April 2018, 42 percent of Saudis say they had recently seen a film in a cinema.
  • TV. The percentage of nationals who watch TV every day fell from 69 percent to 54 percent between 2014 and 2018. Binge-watching TV/online content is reported by significantly more nationals now than in 2016, having increased from 32 percent to 40 percent. This compares to 76 percent of people in the U.S. who binge-watch content.
  • Music & Podcasts. Podcasts are popular among Arab nationals. Large majorities of Saudis and Emiratis listen to podcasts (68 percent and 64 percent, respectively), and 30 percent of both Qataris and Tunisians do so. 
  • Games. Roughly the same percentage of nationals plays video games now as did in 2014, but many who play are devoting more time to it. Qatari gamers, for example, spent an average of nine hours each week playing games in 2014, a number that increased 45 percent by 2018, to 13 hours. Lebanese gamers report a 55 percent increase in time spent playing.
  • Sports. More Arab nationals in 2018 than 2014 list sports as a favorite genre of TV and online video. In five countries, including 2022 FIFA World Cup host Qatar, more nationals prefer to watch a sporting event on TV/online rather than attend the same event.
  • News. Seven in 10 or more of nationals in three countries say they often or sometimes encounter political news items online that appear entirely fake (Qataris, Lebanese, Saudis), which is equal to or more than the number of U.S. residents who say the same. This question was not permitted by officials in Egypt or Jordan.

The sixth annual media use survey was conducted face-to-face (phone in Qatar) among 7,635 respondents across seven countries. The survey was conducted by The Harris Poll from July 10 to December 30, 2018.

The complete results of NU-Q’s sixth annual Middle East media use survey are also available on the interactive website,