Slight majority of public favors college press freedom, survey reveals

Almost 40 percent of Americans think college newspapers should not be able to report on controversial subjects without the approval of school officials, according to a survey released in July by The Freedom Forum.

The survey found that 56 percent of those polled favor college media's right to report on controversy. A previous survey found that 43 percent favored high school newspapers' right to do the same.

The survey results reflect a wide mistrust of the press among participants and a willingness to put more restrictions on the First Amendment. Forty-six percent of respondents said the press has too much freedom, and one in four thinks newspapers should get government approval before publishing stories.

The State of the First Amendment Survey was conducted by the Center for Survey Research at the University of Connecticut and has a margin of error of +/- 3 percent.

The public's views of the First Amendment are largely a reflection of discontent with the media, according to The Freedom Forum's First Amendment Ombudsman, Paul McMasters. He said scandals and botched coverage of the 2000 presidential election have added to that discontent.

"The fortunes of the First Amendment seem to rise and fall with the public's attitudes to the press," McMasters said.

McMasters said that the only way to reverse people's attitudes about the First Amendment is to educate them about its meaning and consequences and to make it clear that free speech exists for the public's benefit.

"The most important thing the press can do is to persuade the American public that press freedom belongs to them and not to the press," he said.