An exploratory investigation into the attitudes of practicing newsmen toward the press-judicial relationship

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1971
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Abstract

This thesis examines the attitudes of newsmen as such attitudes are reflected in a media-judicial relationship. In light of the position of influence and trust held by the mass media in the social structure, a periodic review of these attitudes is desirable in the effort to maintain an objective and unbiased press. Specifically, if there are observable attitudianal trends which could cause some deviation from the course of objectivity, such trends should be observed and identified for the benefit of the public and press alike. Accepting the premise that attitudes will be reflected in news content with its subsequent social impact, a necessity arises for the determination of these attitudes. Sociologists are interested in all the processes by which man, as child or adult, learns and assimilates patterns of culture and responds to the social environment. Accepting the premise that mass communications is of consequence to the social fabric, it logically follows that inquiries into those areas of communication considered of sociological significance is most appropriate and that the objectivity of the technicians of the media be examined. The question for examination asks: Where is the majority of the press located on a liberal-conservative continuum in its attitude toward the press-judicial relationship? Or more definitively, in light of the recent trend toward confrontations between the court and the defense during judicial proceedings, does the attitude of the press, conciously or subconciously, reflect a shift of concern in the direction of more leniency in the presentation of a defense (liberal), or the desire for the maintenance of "orderly" judicial process in its existing form (conservative)? Since a search of literature revealed a lack of material available on the subject, the exploratory approach was utilized. Fixed-alternative response questionnaires were designed, pretested, and submitted to 153 practicing members of the press representing the three main segments of the news industry-- radio, television and newspapers--in each state and the District of Columbia. A 45.8 percent return (70 completed questionnaires) was realized. A combination of random and accidental selection was used in acquiring the sample. Questions submitted to the respondents were constructed from material contained in related texts, commission reports, newspaper articles and periodicals. The substantive basis for the question is presented in the body of the thesis under the designation "ITEM", immediately followed by the question as submitted in the questionnaire. The Likert-type summated scale was used as the basic tool measuring degrees of attitude difference based on high- low numerical scoring on question response. Separate question summations were translated into measures of central tendency utilizing frequency distribution charts. Cumulative summations were then ascertained for each group of questions and related through their counterpart indicants to their specific hypotheses. Based on Likert scale placement, as substantiated by measures of central tendency examination, the acceptance or rejection of hypotheses were determined with scale "agreement" signifying acceptance and "disagreement" signifying rejection. With noted exceptions, returned data generally supported the basic premises contained in the hypotheses initially presented for examination. However, two basic premises advanced in the initial hypotheses were not supported by the data: That a. consensus of attitudes would be apparent; and that the consensus would be liberal. Analysis and interpretation of data revealed that in both instances "majority" had to be substituted for "consensus." Data supported the following conclusions: that although a simple majority of newsmen are in favor of a more liberal approach toward the defense of an accused, a large percentage would disagree with such liberalization at the expense of "orderly" judicial process; that although a majority of newsmen agreed on giving additional consideration during judicial proceedings to an unrestricted press, a high percentage also recognized the right of the court to exercise the controls necessary to assure a fair trial; and that although a significant majority of newsmen are opposed to the establishment of restrictive press legislation, a similarly significant majority would accept the concept of voluntary guidelines in news reporting.

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Keywords
Newsmen, Press-judicial relationship, Media, Press
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