More Than 1 in 3 Students Want Gov't Control of Press, Knight Survey Finds

By: E&P Staff Apparently the First Amendment ought to be made required reading in U.S. high schools. A new survey of 112,003 students released today finds that one in three say the press ought to be more restricted -- and 36% think newspapers should get ?government approval? before stories are published.

The study was sponsored by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The foundation's president, Hodding Carter, called the results "not only disturbing; they are dangerous."

The numbers: 32% say the press enjoys ?too much freedom.? Some 37% say it has the right amount, with 10% voting saying too little. The survey found that a bare majority, 51%, said newspapers should be able to publish freely, with 36% okaying government approval.

In addition, nearly three-fourths of students polled, 73%, either did not know how they felt about the First Amendment or admitted taking it for granted, while half thought the government had the power to censor the Internet. Meanwhile, 75% wrongly believed flag burning was illegal.

The study also revealed that the more students were exposed to First Amendment and new media courses in the classroom, the more involved they were in student journalism. For example, among those students who had taken First Amendment or other press-related courses, 87% believed people should be allowed to express unpopular opinions, while only 68% of those who had not taken such classes shared the belief.

Other key findings:

? Only 17% of school administrators ranked journalism education in their high schools as a high priority, while 53% said it was a priority, and 30% rated it not a priority.

? Most administrators, 85%, said they would like to expand student media programs but lacked the resources.

? Of those students who regularly participated in school newspapers and other student publications, 61% believed they should be able to publish ideas freely without administrative approval, compared to 50% of those who do not regularly participate.

? More than half of high schools involved in the survey, 51%, ranked their student media opportunities as low, while 21% said they have no such options for students, and just 10% consider their options to be high.

? Among the high schools that have no student newspaper, 40% had eliminated them within the past five years and 68% have no new student media. A higher percentage of lower-income schools, 34%, had dropped student publications, while 28% of middle-income schools had lost such options and only 16% of those in suburban areas had dropped them.

? The percentage of students who were involved in student media did not appear to differ based on how much media education was available. While 6% of students at high schools with a "high" level of media studies were involved in the school paper, 8% at those with a "medium" level of media studies participated, and 7% of students at schools with no media classes took part in the student paper.

"The report shows that young people in America are conscious that they are being denied their First Amendment rights," said Gene Policinski, First Amendment Center executive director. "A great harm is being done to a generation of young adults by withholding the full access of their constitutional rights while in high school, then expecting them to be full participants in a democratic society when they are older."

The survey was conducted last spring by the University of Connecticut.

It also questioned 327 principals and 7,889 teachers.


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