July 12, 2011
Photo illustration: Newseum

Photo illustration: Newseum

2011 First Amendment Survey: Public Supports Watchdog Press

WASHINGTON — Americans strongly support the idea of a free press as a watchdog on government, despite concerns about bias in news reports, according to a national survey released July 12, 2011, by the First Amendment Center.

Seventy-five percent of respondents agreed it is important for our democracy that the news media act as an independent “watchdog” over government on behalf of the public.

“The First Amendment gives journalists extraordinary freedom to pursue and publish the news, but also creates the expectation that these liberties will be used in the public interest, keeping our eyes on people in power,” said Ken Paulson, president of the First Amendment Center.

The survey of 1,006 adults was conducted by telephone in June and is the latest in an ongoing series of polls since 1997 concerning public knowledge and opinion about the First Amendment.

Other findings:

  • 75 percent said journalists should be able to keep sources confidential.
  • 78 percent said broadcasters and others should be able to televise the Supreme Court’s proceedings.
  • Only 3 percent could name “petition” as one of the five freedoms in the First Amendment, the lowest percentage of any of the five freedoms.
  • 62 percent, more than half of respondents, named freedom of speech as one of the five freedoms.

The First Amendment Center serves as a forum for the study and exploration of free-expression issues, including freedom of speech, of the press and of religion, and the rights to assemble and to petition the government.

The center, with offices at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., and Washington, D.C., is an operating program of the Freedom Forum and is associated with the Newseum.

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