U.S. students say press freedoms go too far
By Greg Toppo, USA TODAY
One in three U.S. high school students say the press ought to be more restricted, and even more say the government should approve newspaper stories before readers see them, according to a survey being released today.
The survey of 112,003 students finds that 36% believe newspapers should get “government approval” of stories before publishing; 51% say they should be able to publish freely; 13% have no opinion.
Asked whether the press enjoys “too much freedom,” not enough or about the right amount, 32% say “too much,” and 37% say it has the right amount. Ten percent say it has too little.
The survey of First Amendment rights was commissioned by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and conducted last spring by the University of Connecticut. It also questioned 327 principals and 7,889 teachers.
The findings aren’t surprising to Jack Dvorak, director of the High School Journalism Institute at Indiana University in Bloomington. “Even professional journalists are often unaware of a lot of the freedoms that might be associated with the First Amendment,” he says.
The survey “confirms what a lot of people who are interested in this area have known for a long time,” he says: Kids aren’t learning enough about the First Amendment in history, civics or English classes. It also tracks closely with recent findings of adults’ attitudes.
“It’s part of our Constitution, so this should be part of a formal education,” says Dvorak, who has worked with student journalists since 1968.
Although a large majority of students surveyed say musicians and others should be allowed to express “unpopular opinions,” 74% say people shouldn’t be able to burn or deface an American flag as a political statement; 75% mistakenly believe it is illegal.
The U.S. Supreme Court in 1989 ruled that burning or defacing a flag is protected free speech. Congress has debated flag-burning amendments regularly since then; none has passed both the House and Senate.