Pew Survey Finds a Free Press Remains Important to Americans, but Doubts about an Independent Press Persist

According to a recent Pew Research Survey, the First Amendment’s free press guarantee remains extremely important to U.S. citizens. When asked, “How important do you think the freedom of the press is to the well-being of society?” almost three-fourths (73%) said “very” or “extremely” important. Only 2% replied, “not at all important.” 

Despite the importance placed on the freedom of the press, the survey reveals a stark contrast in the perception of media freedom. Only a third (33%) of the respondents believe that media outlets are currently ‘completely free’ to report the news. Almost half (46%) responded that the media is ‘somewhat free,’ and 21% believe there is little or no freedom of the press allowed. 

Respondents overwhelmingly believe that corporate and financial interests influence how outlets report the news, with 84% saying the influence is significant or moderate. About the same percentage (83%) believe that government or political interests influence the media either a “great deal” (49%) or “somewhat” (34%). Only 1% believe government or political interests play no role in news reporting. 

The survey also asked respondents to weigh the importance of a free press against whether some freedoms should be limited to prevent false information. Americans are split, with 46% saying there should be complete freedom of the press, “even if it means false information could be published.” Slightly more than half (51%) believe “publication of false information should always be prevented,” even if this means curbing some of the media’s freedoms. 

There is a small but significant political divide regarding whether press freedom or the prevention of false information should hold precedence. For Republicans or Republican-leaning voters, 57% favor complete freedom over regulating the press to prevent false information from being published. Democrats and Democrat-leaning voters, at 60%, are more likely to favor some restrictions on press freedoms to curb false information. 

The survey was released ahead of the commemoration of World Press Freedom Day on May 3. Questions used for the survey can be found here, and Pew’s methodology can be found here

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