Report No. 93
VIII. Opinion Survey
6.22. Opinion poll of 1979.-
In 1979, a survey was conducted amongst a national cross-section of 12,000 adults in the United States, who were interviewed by telephone from April V, to April 9 that year under the ABC News-Harris Survey.1 The majority of the respondents considered it more important to protect the privacy of a reporter's unpublished notes and sources, rather than to allow the courts to force disclosure of such information if it is felt necessary to ensure a fair trial. Two cases, substantially based on reported decisions, were put to the respondents. It will be of interest to quote the first case that was put before the respondents: "A newspaper reporter who is testifying at a trial refuses to name a person who gave him information.
The reporter says he promised that person (that) he would never reveal his name, and if he broke that promise, other sources might not give important information to other reporters in the future, and then the American people would be cheated of their right to know that information. In addition, the reporter says, his constitutional right to freedom of the press is being violated. The attorney who asked for the name says the trial will not be fair without the testimony of the man who gave information to the reporter, because his story (is) important and no one else has all the information the reporter's source has. Now you are the judge. Would you order the reporter to name his source or not?"
By a decisive 70-21%, most Americans would not order the reporter to name his source. That was the opinion as ascertained by the survey mentioned above.
1. See summary of the survey of opinion in (21st April, 1979) Editor & Reporter, p. 13.