New Media Research Center Study Finds TV News Coverage of Religion has Doubled in Ten Years, But Tone Still Negative - Press Release - April 6, 2004 - Media Research Center

New Media Research Center Study Finds TV News Coverage of Religion has Doubled in Ten Years, But Tone Still Negative
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ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- The Media Research Center today released findings from a new study of how network television news covers religion. The study found coverage has increased significantly since the MRCs first religion study was conducted ten years ago, but the tone of the coverage is very negative and most stories are aired in the context of political issues.

Religious stories are more prevalent but the prevailing attitude at the networks seems to be its only a good story if it casts faith in a negative light, or if it evokes a political controversy, said Brent Bozell, president of the Media Research Center.

MRC analysts surveyed every religion news story on ABC, CBS, and NBC news programs in the 12 months from March 1, 2003 through February 29, 2004. We then compared those numbers to MRCs first religion news study of 1993.

Findings From The MRCs Religion Study Include:

1. Religion coverage has more than doubled from ten years ago. Overall, the networks aired 699 segments in the study period, up from 336 in 1993. The number of evening news stories on the three networks is up fairly dramatically (121 in 1993, 303 in the 2003-04 period). The number of religion segments on prime-time magazine shows and late-night and Sunday interview shows is way up (18 in 1993 to 65 in the 2003-04 period). A smaller jump came on the morning shows (197 in 1993, 331 in the 2003-04 period).

2. The Catholic Church received the most coverage among faiths, but coverage of Islam is up dramatically. The 25th anniversary of the rise of Pope John Paul II drew significant coverage with a balance of positive and negative angles. Media outlets continued to press stories on Catholic clergy sexual abuse and other ministerial failings. Coverage of Islam was up dramatically from ten years ago, even if it was largely contained to Iraq. The handful of stories on Islam in America mainly portrayed Muslims as victims of discrimination by non-Muslims.

3. Reporters often approach religious issues from a secular and political perspective. When the Episcopalian Church USA appointed openly gay Bishop Gene Robinson, reporters focused relentlessly on the political, not scriptural or theological matters. Most of the TV interview time went to Robinson and his supporters (ten interviews to just one for a neutral church spokesman and one for an opponent). In news stories, the talking heads were almost balanced between supporters and opponents (39 to 45), but the labeling was very imbalanced (42 "conservative" labels for opponents to five "liberal" labels for the church or Robinsons supporters).

4. The tone of network TV religion coverage is hostile to orthodox faiths, and supportive to minority religions and progressive fads. Gibsons movie was by far the largest anti-Semitism story of the year. News coverage didnt shift from offending Jews to inspiring Christians until February, when a box-office boom became apparent. A much less orthodox product, author Dan Browns Vatican-bashing novel The Da Vinci Code, was promoted with the mildest of factual challenges, without any notion that it was inaccurate or anti-Catholic, while Gibsons film was questioned thoroughly about its accuracy, its fairness, and its potentially violent impact.

5. The medias Rolodex of religion experts is dominated by those hostile to religious orthodoxy. The networks heavily favored "religious" scholars and journalists who strongly question orthodox religion and the accuracy of the Gospels, but did not describe them as liberals or secularists.

Even though an overwhelming majority of Americans express faith in God and worship regularly, network news continues to resist exploring who these Americans are and why they believe what they believe. Religion is still the red-haired stepchild of network newsrooms, Bozell said.

Related Items:
Executive Summary

Complete Study
PDF Version

To schedule an interview with Mr. Bozell, director of media analysis Tim Graham,
or director of research Richard Noyes, contact Katie Wright at (703)-683-5004.