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71% Say It’s Not Government’s Job to Monitor News Content

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

In the face of a public outcry, the Federal Communications Commission has backed off a plan to determine if the news media is meeting the public’s “critical information needs.” But voters strongly believe news content is none of the federal government’s business.

Seventy-one percent (71%) of Likely U.S. Voters say it is not the government’s role to monitor the content of news organizations in this country, according to a new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey. Just 18% think it is the government’s job to monitor news content. Eleven percent (11%) are not sure. (To see survey question wording, click here.)

Seventy-six percent (76%) are at least somewhat concerned that the FCC’s analysis of news content will lead to government efforts to control the news media or promote a political agenda, with 49% who are Very Concerned. Twenty-one percent (21%) don’t share that concern, but that includes only four percent (4%) who are Not At All Concerned about this possibility.

Seventy-six percent (76%) of voters believe that with the Internet, cable networks, satellite radio, newspapers, radio and TV, it is possible for just about any political view and just about any news content to be found in today’s media. Only 15% disagree.

But 38% nevertheless think the government should require all radio and television stations to offer equal amount of conservative and liberal political commentary. Half (49%) of voters disagree with government-mandated equal commentary. Thirteen percent (13%) are undecided.

There’s an interesting partisan difference of opinion, however, over this requirement, known generally as the “fairness doctrine.” Democrats by a 45% to 40% margin favor the government requiring all radio and TV stations to offer equal amounts of conservative and liberal commentary. Fifty-three percent (53%) of Republicans and 55% of voters not affiliated with either major party oppose it.

Ninety-three percent (93%) of all voters rate America’s constitutional freedom of the press as important, with 64% who consider it Very Important. But 55% view the federal government today as a threat to their constitutional rights rather than a protector of those rights.

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The survey of 1,000 Likely Voters was conducted on February 22-23, 2014 by Rasmussen Reports. The margin of sampling error is +/- 3 percentage points with a 95% level of confidence. Field work for all Rasmussen Reports surveys is conducted by Pulse Opinion Research, LLC. See methodology.

When it was discovered last May that the U.S. Justice Department had secretly subpoenaed the phone records of reporters at the Associated Press and Fox News, 61% of Republicans and a plurality (46%) of voters not affiliated with either major political party viewed it as an attempt to bully the media. Most Democrats (53%) said the Justice Department was merely acting out of concern for national security.

Americans were evenly divided when asked about the fairness doctrine in July 2007, but support has been trending away from government-mandated balance in political commentary since then.

Just 58% of voters have been following recent news reports about the FCC, with 25% who have been following Very Closely. Voters under 40 are much less likely than their elders to be following news about the agency but oppose just as strongly government efforts to monitor the content of news organizations in this country.

Most Democrats (58%) agree that it is not the government’s role to monitor news content, but they don’t believe it as strongly as GOP voters (85%) and unaffiliateds (74%) do.

Similarly, only 31% of Democrats are Very Concerned that the FCC’s analysis of news content will lead to government efforts to control the news media or promote a political agenda, a view shared by 68% of Republicans and 53% of unaffiliateds.

Most Political Class and Mainstream voters oppose the fairness doctrine and government monitoring of news content, but the Political Class is much less worried that the FCC’s analysis of news content will lead to efforts to control the media or promote a political agenda.

Fifty-six percent (56%) of all voters think the news reported by the media is at least somewhat trustworthy, but that includes just six percent (6%) who think it is Very Trustworthy.

In both the 2008 and 2012 presidential election cycles, voters felt most reporters tried to help President Obama far more than his Republican opponents.

Sixty-four percent (64%) of Americans do support FCC regulation of profanity, violence and sexual content on TV and radio. But only 21% want the federal agency to regulate the Internet, in part because 56% believe that the FCC would use its regulatory authority to promote a political agenda.

Additional information from this survey and a full demographic breakdown are available to Platinum Members only.

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