in a Box: Entertainment Television on Religion, 1993-1996," was
put together by Tom Johnson and released in a conference call with
reporters Tuesday conducted by Mark Honig of the MRC's Parents
Nine of ten
Americans believe in God, and a recent TV Guide poll found that more
than two-thirds of respondents want to see more spiritual content on
television. Given that Hollywood claims to reflect reality, and that
we are a highly religious nation, it's appropriate to ask how
realistically prime time TV portrays matters of faith.
answer: Not very. Religion is a scarce commodity in prime time TV,
appearing about once every four hours. Even though depictions of
religion last year were, overall, positive, prime time has too often
presented distorted, unfair views of both clergy and laity.
number of religious depictions jumped to 436 in 1996. There has been a
near-fourfold increase in this category over four years. Simple
expressions of faith, such as prayer, were dealt with positively by
almost a 10 to 1 margin in 1996. Faith has been handled quite
favorably all four years.
In 1996, the
depiction of lay people was overwhelmingly negative, by a margin of
almost 4-1. Believers were portrayed negatively 67.9 percent of
depictions. Devout criminals were prevalent. On the January 31 Law and
Order, a man explains why he killed two twelve-year-old boys:
"This one looked at filthy magazines [and] he was wearing an
image of St. Justin. It wasn't just lust. It was sacrilege. Justin was
a martyr to Our Lord. [The other boy] stole, defiling Our Lord. He had
to be destroyed." On the April 12 Nash Bridges (CBS), a bomb
threat to the mayor is accompanied by words from Revelation. Other
programs portraying the religious as crazy or violent included the
January 15 NBC movie Justice for Annie, the January 22 Nowhere Man (UPN),
the September 10 Fox movie Dark Angel, and the October 12 Walker,
Texas Ranger (CBS).
slightly more positive than negative depictions of the clergy last
year -- not encouraging figures given the exceptionally high esteem in
which real-life clergy are held. Past clerical portrayals have been
highly negative ('93 and '95) and close to balanced ('94).
boasts the faith-friendly Touched By an Angel and Promised Land, was
far in front among the networks last year with 172 total portrayals.
Among full-time networks, ABC trailed badly with 55. CBS aired the
most instances in 1995 as well; NBC led in '93 and '94. ABC also
finished a distant last in '95.
in a Box: The Network News Portrait of Religion, 1993-1996," was
produced by the MRC's Tim Graham and released at a Tuesday press
conference conducted by MRC Chairman Brent Bozell:
For the last
four years, the Media Research Center has conducted an annual survey
of the quantity and quality of religion news coverage by the national
television networks. Surveys show virtually all Americans believe in
God, and 60 percent attend religious services at least once a month.
But the landscape remains surprisingly unchanged: the networks
continue to fail in significantly breaking the one-percent barrier of
total news content in their religion coverage, neglecting people and
issues of faith in their everyday reporting. Among the highlights of
this year's study:
In the last
four years, from 1993 through 1996, the networks have aired an
estimated 72,000 evening news stories, and an estimated 104,000
morning show segments. But only 955 of those 72,000 evening news
stories (roughly 1.3 percent) were devoted to religion; and only 830
of those 104,000 morning news segments (roughly 0. 8 percent) covered
In 1996, the
number of network news treatments of religion increased, but only
slightly: 269 evening stories, 258 morning stories, and 19 magazine
segments -- barely more than one percent of total coverage. Over a
four-year period, the networks averaged 239 evening news stories per
year, 208 morning news segments a year, and only 15 features per year
on all their magazine programs.
The dearth of
TV religion coverage did not result from a lack of interesting
religion news events and feature ideas of 1996. Whether it's annual
events, like the $1.2 million Templeton Prize for Progress in
Religion, or noteworthy new developments, like the new scientific
challenges to Darwinian evolution theory or the new State Department
panel on oppression of religious people abroad, the networks have
shown little imagination or interest in religion stories.