WASHINGTON—While a slight majority of the public agrees that reporters should be able to protect confidential sources, a new poll released by Accuracy in Media (AIM) finds that a majority does NOT agree that Congress should pass a law giving those reporters a “shield” from testifying about or identifying those sources in criminal cases.
“Even with coverage slanted in favor of their colleagues facing jail time over failing to disclose sources, the majority of the public still can’t support a federal law to protect journalists from being forced to testify in federal proceedings,” stated AIM editor Cliff Kincaid. “This is a major blow to the press.”
On the eve of a July 20 Senate hearing on the proposed shield law, this poll, conducted by The Polling Company, found that only 45 percent of the public favors passage of a federal media shield law to protect the press. The poll found that 40 percent were against the proposed law, with 13 percent undecided.
The poll found that when the issue is narrowly framed in terms of the rights of a reporter versus a prosecutor, the reporter wins by 54-30 percent. “That’s not surprising given how the major media have elevated reporters like Bob Woodward to superhero status,” said Kincaid. “But majority support for a particular journalist does not translate into majority support for a general law protecting all journalists.”
As the debate moves forward, Kincaid said that the media have an obligation to present both sides of this issue, not automatically come down on the side of their colleagues, and he faulted major press groups, including the American Society of Newspaper Editors, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and the Society of Professional Journalists, for openly lobbying for the bill. A few news organizations have come to AIM for an opposing view, Kincaid said, but most media coverage emphasizes the comments of journalists and press groups favoring the shield law approach. “This is how the media slant the debate in their favor,” he said. “They want special protection from Congress and the media lobby is determined to get its way.”
Kincaid criticized the Senate Judiciary Committee for scheduling a hearing on the proposed federal media shield bill on July 20 without inviting one known opponent of the concept. Kincaid’s column on the one-sided hearing is on the AIM web site at www.aim.org, where the complete poll results are also available.
Accuracy In Media (AIM) is a non-profit, grassroots citizens watchdog of the news media that critiques botched and bungled news stories and sets the record straight on important issues that have received slanted coverage.