American newspapers, television and radio by and large are responsible and fair in reporting the news, despite occasional widespread public dissatisfaction, a study has found.
In a report released this weekend, the Citizen's Choice National Commission on Free and Responsible Media said the media also appear to be increasingly responsive to demands for fairness, thoroughness, respect for privacy and public access.
The 34-member commission, sponsored by Citizen's Choice, a lobbying arm of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, held hearings in 1983 and 1984 and talked to dozens of witnesses in conducting its inquiry. Panel members were businessmen, educators, government officials, news executives and others.
The commission chairman, the Rev. William C. McInnes, president of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities here, said the findings were "impressionistic" and not intended as road map for changing the media. Rather, he said, the commission hoped its work would stimulate further debate.
McInnes said that a major impression from the study was that "formal and continuing education," particularly in economics and political science, "is urgently needed for reporters and producers of media news who operate in an increasingly complex . . . society. It should be immediately added that comparable education is needed for media consumers."
The report said that four central issues dominated the commission's review: Is access to the press fair? Do the media treat issues with sufficient depth? Where is the line between freedom of the press and the right to privacy? Are the media biased?
The panel said the ideal of access is "clearly alive and well" and may be broader than critics admit. Time and space limitations often prevent in-depth treatment of issues, but giving depth of information "to facilitate wise decision-making in a democracy . . . may be beyond the press's capability -- or responsibility," the commission found.
The commission said it had found "thoughtful dialogue" going on over the conflicts between press freedom and privacy, although it said that such conflicts are inherent in a democratic system and may be resolved best by self-imposed restraint by the media.
Bias may be inevitable, the commission also found, but "acknowledging it and correcting it when it does appear" may be even more important. The panel said it had found some encouraging trends toward self-correction by the media.