Americans cite bias and deception as the top two unethical behaviors by mass media that most concern them, according to a poll released today by Middle Tennessee State University’s College of Mass Communication.
Collectively, the study found, the most common concerns relate to media portrayals of the truth."One significant finding is that Americans are most concerned about issues orbiting truth-telling,” said Dr. Tom Cooper, MTSU’s Ethicist-in-Residence and a catalyst for the study.
“About two-fifths of those questioned voiced primary concern about deception, exaggeration, sensationalism, bias or inaccuracy,” Cooper said. “The second largest group seems concerned about issues of media excess, such as too much violence, foul language, gratuitous sex, redundancy and saturation, while the third largest group is concerned about privacy issues."
The poll of 1,017 randomly selected U.S. adults found that nearly a fifth (19%) say media bias or one-sidedness concerns them most. Another 11 percent name media dishonesty, and nine percent describe media invasion of privacy.
Other concerns expressed include inaccuracy (4%) and too much violent content, exaggeration, incomplete reporting, sexual content and repetition or saturation in coverage (3% each).
Concerns about sensationalism, too much profanity or bad language, and a lack of in-depth reporting each showed up among 2 percent of the respondents. Garnering 1 percent each were concerns about:
- too much media focus on celebrities;
- too much media focus on crime;
- rude, pushy or obnoxious behavior by media;
- unspecified concerns about reporting on the war in Iraq;
- too much negativity;
- revealing secret information;
- being interested solely in ratings; and
- focusing on unimportant stories.
The research is part of a larger study of the attitudes of the American public and media professionals toward media ethics issues. The study is part of background materials for the second U.S. Media Ethics Summit Conference, to be held Feb. 27-March 2 at MTSU.The summit will gather media ethics experts from professional associations, academic organizations, institutes and relevant publications to evaluate and recommend solutions to U.S. civic and media leaders.
Administered by Opinion Research Corporation of Princeton, N.J., with guidance from Dr. Ken Blake, associate director of MTSU’s Office of Communication Research, and Cooper, the poll has an error margin of plus-or-minus three percentage points at the 95 percent level of confidence. Opinion Research Corporation developed the categories used to code the poll's open-ended responses.
Of those polled, 19 percent said they did not know or declined to answer and 17 percent said they had no concerns. Nine percent of the respondents listed other concerns (less than 2% each), such as corporate control of news and political advertising. The sum of the percentages exceeds 100 percent, both because of sample weighting factors and because respondents were allowed to name as many concerns as they wished.
Most (85%) named one concern, but another 12 percent named two concerns, 2 percent named three, and the remaining 1 percent named either four or six concerns.Completed interviews were weighted by age, gender, geographic region, and race to ensure reliable and accurate representation of the 18-and-older population.
Sponsors of the poll include the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation, MTSU’s Vice President for Research and Graduate Studies, MTSU’s Office of Communication Research and the College of Mass Communication.
More details and data are available at www.mtsusurveygroup.org/mtpoll/ethicspoll06.htm.