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New survey reveals that the Euro-Med region is not a victim of a clash of civilisations

The results of a new survey on Intercultural Trends in the Euro-Mediterranean region launched by the Anna Lindh Foundation reveals that the region is not a victim of a clash of civilisations, as is often reported, but rather a ‘clash of ignorances’ based on historical stereotypes and the ‘culturalisation’ of conflicts promoted by some media and political narratives.

The survey investigated what people see as critical aspects of life in the Euro-Mediterranean region, and the key similarities and differences they find between themselves and those from other countries, cultures and backgrounds. It also examines trust of different types of media sources across different countries and age profiles.

More than 13,000 people across 13 countries were interviewed by Ipsos-Mori during the second half of 2016 for this study about their expectations, concerns and values. The countries studied included eight in the EU (Austria, Croatia, Finland, France, Italy, Poland, Portugal and The Netherlands) and five Southern and Eastern Mediterranean (SEM) countries (Algeria, Israel, Jordan, Palestine and Tunisia).

Education and youth programmes received wide support from all interviewees, with 81% of respondents in European countries and 85% in SEM reporting that they believe such mechanisms will help prevent and deal with the challenges of radicalism.

Television was reported as the most trusted news source across both European and SEM countries, while in European markets second and third place are taken by Print media, and Films and Documentaries respectively. In SEM countries on the other hand, Online media is ranked second in terms of most trusted news source, while Books take third place.

While migration does feature as a characteristic of the region, particularly in SEM countries, in terms of what people see as critical aspects of life in the Euro-Mediterranean region, it is well behind concepts such as hospitality and way of life. This shows that the people of this region have more in common than what is reflected commonly by certain media and political narratives.

Some of the key findings of the survey were:

  • Positive perceptions of the Mediterranean region outscore negative ones.
  • Tolerance of those from different cultural backgrounds – on matters ranging from work contexts to marriage – exceeds 60%.
  • The key qualities associated with defining the Mediterranean region are shared history, shared heritage, and shared way of life – especially cuisine.
  • Migration, instability and conflict were also acknowledged as relevant aspects but to a much lesser degree.
  • There are some differences in perceptions on the two sides of the water, with interviewees in the south focusing on migration more than their counterparts in the north.
  • The aspect ‘source of conflict’ – which is a focus for much of the media - rated only 25% for strong association in the north and 39% in the south.
  • Print media is the second (40%) most trusted source for information in European countries. However in SEM countries only 15% of respondents think print is a trusted source.
  • 37% of 15-29 year olds in SEM countries find Online Media and Social Media trusted sources of information about European countries.
  • In terms of the efficiency of mechanisms to prevent and deal with conflicts and radicalisation in the Euro-Mediterranean region, 8 out of 10 respondents think that education and youth programmes that foster youth-led dialogue initiatives would be ‘very’ or ‘somewhat’ efficient.
  • 9 out of 10 Europeans (92%) and SEM (88%) see the potential of cooperation in relation to opportunities for entrepreneurship, innovation and youth employment.

Dr George Vella, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Malta, underlined the importance of the Survey results: “This pioneering study of the Anna Lindh Foundation will be central to reshaping the renewed policies of the European Union’s Neighbourhood, providing an evidence-base and benchmark for future EU Presidencies. The findings of the Survey prove to be a validation of the Foundation’s new programming pillars backed by the Maltese Presidency  - among them “Intercultural Cities and Learning”, “Young Mediterranean Voices” and “Media Dialogue”.

Minister Vella commented on the survey results: “The findings of this survey are very welcome, because they will dispel much of the myth concerning the increase in prejudice the world over. As the world comes to grips with the challenges of ‘alternative facts’ and ‘fake news’ it is useful to have access to information that is solid and not manipulated with a specific purpose in mind. Real facts allow proper understanding. The clear majorities of both regions have common accord on what unites us. They have shown that they are resistant to the pressure exerted by groups on both sides of the Mediterranean to focus purely on the negatives and the factors that differentiate. It is plain now that dialogue is paramount, and that the often cited ‘Clash of Civilisations’ is not a foregone conclusion.” 

“Central to the legacy of the Maltese Presidency is deepening the partnership with the Anna Lindh Foundation, also through bringing ‘Mediterranean thinking’ and a Mediterranean approach to the global issues of today. For this reason, we are proud to associate our institutions and networks to the Foundation’s monitoring role on intercultural trends and the media observatory that will be central to shaping a more informed debate across the region.”

Silvio Gonzato, Director of Strategic Communication, Parliamentary Affairs and General Affairs of the European External Action Service, said: "The survey results highlight the call for a better coordination across the region beyond the voices of polarisation. We need to respond to that call, and the emphasis the results expose in terms of investment in youth, education and media."

Gonzato added: "Media is a credible sector for the Anna Lindh Foundation and the proposal for a Media Observatory is the response, and we want to collaborate and support this initiative."

With the survey also revealing attitudes towards the media, it has illustrated that perceptions differ according to where people gather their information. The survey reflects that levels of distrust are seemingly far greater among those who have taken input from media than among those who have reached their opinions without media influence.

If high levels of media distrust in the region are widespread across the region, broader questions regarding what impact media is having through their editorial policies becomes critically important for society and politicians alike.

Under this backdrop, the Anna Lindh Foundation is also launching a Media Observatory, attached to the Euro-Mediterranean Foundation, which will observe how media cover issues of intercultural relations and provide evidence-based resources and material for journalists and the media.

The 2017 survey by the Anna Lindh Foundation is the third in a series that started in 2010, providing insight into how the dynamics of the region have changed over several years. The survey is just one element in a programme of activities being organised by the Foundation for the next three years that aims to measure intercultural dialogue, to manage exercises in which it is put into practice and to provide input to policy makers. These activities all fall under the programme of events being run by the Foundation to “Invest in a generation”, with investment in youth-led initiatives and education perceived as the best response to conflict and radicalisation.

The key components of the Media Observatory will include:

  • Media mapping and research; capturing existing good practice on cross-cultural reporting to feed into training programmes for media professionals supported by the European Union and other regional actors.
  • Engagement of Journalism Schools with media dialogue, media research and curriculum development
  • Media/CSO dialogues including creating a free and equal space to discuss “hot issues” such as migration, cultural stereotyping, mobility, shrinking space for civil society, media freedoms and professionalism (including social media), terrorism and radicalisation.
  • Rapid response media mechanism to respond to headline news with a cultural dimension by supplying experts who can act as spokespeople and provide analysis
  • Policy dialogues with media executives to engage influential senior members of the media in trends analysis and implications for media policy.