Survey: Support For First Amendment Up

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Support for the First Amendment (search) is on the rise and many Americans want more information about how the government is fighting the war on terrorism, a survey released Friday shows.

The nationwide telephone poll of 1,000 adults found that 19 percent of respondents strongly agreed that the First Amendment goes too far in the rights it guarantees. That number was down sharply from the 41 percent found on last year's survey, conducted nine months after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Nearly half of those questioned believed they had too little access to information about the government's war on terrorism, according to the annual survey commissioned by the Nashville-based First Amendment Center (search) and American Journalism Review magazine.

A majority of respondents said the consolidation of media ownership decreases both the range and quality of information they receive. Congress is in the process of repealing a Federal Communications Commission (search) decision that would relax media ownership rules.

Ken Paulson, the center's executive director, said he was surprised that only 4 percent of those surveyed thought corporate owners did "not at all" influence news organizations' coverage.

"Most journalists I know believe they are doing an objective and autonomous job of reporting, but by overwhelming numbers Americans view that content being tainted by corporate ownership," he said. "That's a real wake-up call for the news business."

The survey also criticized the news media's performance in other areas. Nearly half of respondents said America has too much press freedom and more than a third said the media has been too aggressive in asking questions during the war on terrorism.

"The public clearly wants more information on the war on terror and yet they don't entirely trust the news media to deliver it to them," Paulson said.

The survey found that 68 percent of people felt the inclusion of "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance (search) did not violate the Constitutional principle of separation of church and state.

A federal appeals court ruling last year banned the teacher-led pledge in public schools because of the phrase.

More than half of those questioned do not think the Constitution (search) should be amended to ban burning or desecration of the American flag, up slightly from last year.

"As strongly as Americans feel about their flag they feel more strongly about the Constitution," Paulson said.

The poll was conducted by the University of Connecticut's Center for Survey Research and Analysis (search). The First Amendment Center is an operating program of the Arlington, Va.-based Freedom Forum.