PUBLIC WANTS FOI, BUT NOT AT PRIVACY’S EXPENSE

By: Joe Strupp

New ASNE Survey Shows Support For Press


WASHINGTON – Most Americans strongly believe the press
should have access to government proceedings, but remain
concerned that too much access is harmful if it affects personal
privacy, according to a study released Tuesday at the American
Society of Newspaper Editors conference being held here. The
survey, released by ASNE and the First Amendment Coalition, was
conducted through phone interviews with 1,005 adults in November
2000 by researchers at the University of Connecticut Center for
Survey Research and Analysis.

Key among the results was the finding that 90% of respondents
said access to public records was important to them, with 60%
saying public access to government records was “crucial” to the
functioning of good government. But 61% of those polled said they
were “very concerned” about their own privacy, while 54%
supported strengthening privacy laws even if it curbed access to
government records.

“We have to make the case that greater access to government
information benefits the public and not just the press,” Ken
Paulson, First Amendment Center executive director, said in
response to the mixed findings. “At a time when so many
government decisions are driven by data, access to public
information by a free press and an interested public is more
critical than ever.”

In other findings, 91% believed their right to view public
documents was important, 48% said that Americans had too little
access to government records, and 45% said the same thing about
government meetings. In addition, 86% of those surveyed said they
were “very concerned” when the government or private entities
sold personal information about them.

Fifty-six percent of those polled said they would support
curtailing journalists’ right to information if it would mean
tightening privacy laws, while 38% said they were more concerned
about personal privacy since they’ve had access to the Internet.
But, 59% believed that the benefits of the Internet outweighed
the potential privacy problems.

“The poll and other research gives us a good sense of what we’re
up against,” said Anders Gyllenhaal, ASNE Freedom of Information
committee chair. “It tells us exactly where we have people’s
support and where we have to do more to work to build it.”



Joe Strupp (jstrupp@editorandpublisher.com) is an associate editor for E&P.



Copyright 2001, Editor & Publisher.

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