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Poll: Most People Want Free News Media, Unrestricted Internet Access


People polled around the world say they support freedom of the news media, but some believe governments should sometimes be allowed to regulate news coverage. As VOA's Kent Klein reports from Washington, the new survey indicates widespread opposition to government restrictions on Internet access.

A U.S.-based international research project called WorldPublicOpinion.org talked to more than 18,000 people about their thoughts on journalists' freedom to report the news.

Majorities in 18 of the 20 countries polled say people should have the right to read whatever is on the Internet. This includes seven out of 10 in China, where the government restricts Internet access.

Cheng Li grew up in Shanghai, and is now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution's China Center in Washington. He says the Chinese people are re-thinking their views about Western-style media freedom, in view of the coverage of the recent ethnic conflict in Tibet.

"The Chinese public, particularly young college students, are extremely resentful of what they believe to be the biased and sometimes racist media coverage of China in the West," he said. "Major Western media networks, especially CNN, have lost credibility in the eyes of many Chinese people."

The broader principle of press freedom gets even wider support from the people surveyed. Most of those polled in each of the 20 countries in the survey say it is important for the media to be free to publish news and ideas without government control. An average of 82 percent say this is important, including 53 percent who consider it very important.

Majorities in 10 nations polled, including Mexico, Nigeria and China, believe that the media in their country should have more freedom.

Cheng Li says more than 30,000 foreign journalists will be in China this year for the Olympics, and they will be covering much more than sports. He says this will be a measure of how China's government deals with the foreign media.

"They will travel widely in China, and write about all aspects of Chinese society," he said. "These foreign journalists will pose one of the greatest challenges the PRC has ever encountered."

In six majority-Muslim countries plus Russia, substantial numbers of people surveyed think the government should have the right to restrict politically sensitive information.

A Washington correspondent for Al Arabiya satellite television, Nadia Bilbassy-Charters, quotes one of her Middle Eastern colleagues who told her one of the main obstacles for reporters in the region is self-censorship due to public opinion.

"He said, 'I still self-censor myself, not because of fear the state will punish me, but for fear of the reaction on the street," she said. "I can defy the state, yet defying the people is quite tougher.'"

The WorldPublicOpinion.org poll results are being released in conjunction with the U.N.-declared World Press Freedom Day on Saturday May 3.


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