Support for a free press

Although 76 percent of Americans support the right of tabloid newspapers to publish what they want, fewer Americans believe that high school students should be able to publish what they want.

Kenneth Dautrich, Ph.D., of the Center for Survey Research and Analysis at the University of Connecticut conducted a survey last year on American attitudes toward the First Amendment for the Freedom Forum, an international foundation that focuses on press press issues. One question Dautrich and his team posed to a random sample of Americans concerned the rights of student journalists.

The survey stated: “High school students should be allowed to report controversial issues in their student newspaper without approval of school authorities.” Fifty-four percent of Americans surveyed disagreed with this statement, while 45 percent agreed that students should be able to publish without approval.

Bob Wyatt, a journalism professor at Middle Tennessee State University, asked a similar question for his 1990 survey in Free Expression and the American People. His question asked members of the public if they thought that high school students who reported controversial issues in student newspapers deserved legal protection. Twenty-eight of the respondents supported legal protection all of the time, 46 percent thought some of the time, and 25 percent believed students never deserve legal protection.

“I think the support for protection of students’ rights are about as robust as that for other journalists,” said Wyatt.

Donna Demac, who released a report for the Freedom Forum in December called State of the First Amendment, based her results on the 1997 survey. Demac concluded that “freedom of the press remains alive in the United States, but it can hardly be said to be thriving.”