WASHINGTON – Public suspicion that the news media are growing less independent is fueling worries about loosened restrictions on companies owning multiple outlets in the same city, a new poll finds.
New rules passed recently by the Federal Communications Commission (search) allowing more concentrated ownership are viewed as a negative development by half, 50 percent, in a poll conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press (search).
Only 10 percent in that poll said the decreased restrictions would have a positive effect.
About one-third said in February that the concentrated ownership of media outlets in a city would have a negative effect. But few people at that time had been paying much attention to ongoing efforts to change the ownership rules.
Seven in 10 in the new poll said they think news organizations are often influenced by powerful people and groups.
"Over the last 20 years, people have had growing doubts about whether the press is really independent or influenced by powerful forces," said Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism (search). "They have growing concerns about that influence."
The FCC decided in early June that individual companies can own television stations reaching nearly half the nation's viewers and combinations of newspapers and broadcast stations in the same city.
Critics of the decision said the new rules will lead to ownership of the media by a few giant companies that can control what people see, hear and read.
Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center, said the worries about the new ownership rules are probably related to "the suspicion the public has about corporate power."
The public has mixed feelings about how much objectivity it wants in news coverage. A majority of people say they want the media to offer neutral coverage. But when asked if they think it is good for coverage to have "a strong pro-American point of view," seven in 10 said "yes."
The poll found that 22 percent say they most often turn to Fox News for news coverage. That's up from 16 percent in January 2002, but still behind CNN, at 27 percent.
The Fox audience is significantly more conservative and Republican than the audience for network news and CNN, the poll found.
The recent problems experienced at The New York Times when reporter Jayson Blair fabricated material in stories apparently has had little effect on public attitudes about the media.
Most people already were cynical about media organizations' accuracy and response when mistakes are made.
Improvement in the news media's public image after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks has largely disappeared, according to the poll. But the public perception about the patriotism of those in the media is still slightly higher than it was before the attacks.
People tend to see the news media as liberal rather than conservative, by a 2-1 margin.
The poll of 1,201 adults was taken from June 19 to July 2 and has an error margin of plus or minus 3 percentage points.