Public strongly backs news media as watchdog on government

Ken Paulson reports on the results of the 2011 State of the First Amendment survey at the National Press Club.

Although Americans are still concerned about news-media bias, they overwhelmingly support the idea of a free press as a watchdog of government, according to the 2011 State of the First Amendment national survey (PDF)conducted last month by the First Amendment Center.

The results of the survey, which has measured public knowledge and opinion about the First Amendment since 1997, were announced by ASNE and First Amendment Center President Ken Paulson yesterday at the National Press Club in Washington.

Three-quarters of respondents agreed it is important for democracy that the news media act as an independent “watchdog” over government; two-thirds disagreed with the statement, “the news media try to report the news without bias.”

Despite their misgivings on bias, respondents showed increased support for the concept of shield laws: 75 percent said journalists should be able to keep sources confidential, the highest level of support in the survey since 2000.

“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 an eye on people in power,” Paulson said.