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Dumb Britons fail leaders' test

Blair was the best known leader among those who could name one
Blair was the best known leader among those who could name one

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LONDON, England -- One in 10 Britons cannot name a world leader, including their own, pointing to a nation "dumbing down," a survey says.

Britons proved to be more switched on to television soap stars than politics, forcing Whitaker's, who commissioned the survey, to call for a new look at the way current affairs is presented in the UK.

Eleven percent of Britons questioned could not name a single world leader, but nearly half can list five characters in the BBC soap hit EastEnders.

And as Britain gears up, alongside the U.S., for a possible military strike against Iraq, Albert Square's Phil Mitchell is almost twice as well known in the UK as Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

The best known world leaders were UK Prime Minister Tony Blair (83% percent) and U.S. President George W. Bush (82%).

But only 25% could name Saddam. Others on the list included the presidents of France, Jacques Chirac (23%); Russia, Vladimir Putin (16%); Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe (6%); and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder (6%).

Whitaker's has written to the government calling for a review of all news gathering.

Lauren Hill, Editor of Whitaker's Almanac which carried out the survey entitled "Is Britain Dumbing Down?", told the UK's Press Association: "These results are concerning and we can only conclude from this report that Britain certainly is 'dumbing down'.

"The population has become fanatical about celebrities. With major political and international news continuously on the agenda, we believe that the government has a key role to play in encouraging people to become more interested in current affairs and the world around us."

Reality game shows emphasised their popularity with more people (25 percent) being able to name the winner of the latest Channel 4's Big Brother, Kate Lawler, than key figures in the British Cabinet including John Prescott, Deputy Prime Minister, and Gordon Brown, Chancellor, (both 24 percent).

Asked to name five current Cabinet members, 42 percent could not come up with one.

The lack of political knowledge could be attributed to an unwillingness to keep up to date with current affairs, especially among women.

Only 8 percent of women could name five world leaders, compared with 17 percent of men.

Nine percent of the 1,000 people questioned admitted to never watching, listening or reading the news.

People were more likely to regularly watch soaps, reality TV and sitcoms (86 percent) than spend an hour a day watching news (51 percent), the survey found.

When asked to name characters from EastEnders, 63 percent of those surveyed named at least one and 46% named five.

Top of the list was Phil Mitchell (44 percent), followed by Mark Fowler (40 percent), Pauline Fowler (30 percent), Peggy Mitchell (28 percent) and Lisa Fowler (24 percent).

Hill has written to Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell. Hill added: "There is so much information out there and we feel people should be encouraged to go out and grab it with both hands.

"As a result of this research, we are writing to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport for a review of all news programming."

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