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Press Gets Bad Press Again

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Press Gets Bad Press Again

Article excerpt

The press is in trouble with the public. Again. A new study shows that 53% of Americans believe the press has too much power, a growing number of people do not oppose the idea of newspapers getting government approval before publishing stories, and some think the TV rating system for entertainment programs should be applied to news.

Those were among the major findings on the state of the press in a survey of public attitudes about First Amendment freedoms, released July 2 and sponsored by the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn. The survey follows one conducted in 1997.

Poll results indicate that while most Americans take advantage of the freedoms protected by the First Amendment, they are not always comfortable with them.

Among the poll results dealing with the press:

* In the 1997 survey, 80% said newspapers should be able to publish freely without government approval of a story; that figure has dropped to 65% in the most recent survey.

* Two years ago, 85% said the press should be able to keep sources confidential; today that support has fallen to 79%.

* The use of hidden cameras is also losing favor. Two years ago, 65% opposed the use of hidden cameras; now the opposition has grown to 72%.

Ken Paulson, executive director of the First Amendment Center, says: "When more than half of all Americans believe that the press has too much freedom, it's the best time possible to show what you can do with that freedom. It's time for the best qualities of American journalism to come to the fore."

Paul McMasters, First Amendment ombudsman for the Freedom Forum in Arlington, Va., says the results spell trouble for the press. He says that some of the press criticisms have been heard before, but some newfound problems date back to press overload, which may have started with the O.J. Simpson murder case.

"I think two things are at work here. One, there's been a steady alienation on the part of the public from a press that they see as too pervasive, too sensational, too superficial, in some cases too biased and in some cases getting things wrong," says McMasters. …

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