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Survey exposes TV's negative depiction of religion

Network television's depictions of religion are "overwhelmingly" negative, despite 90% of the American public professing a belief in God, according to a study released last week by the Parents Television Council.

"Hollywood is an industry that maintains that it reflects reality," said Brent Bozell, president of the council, "but people see their most fundamental beliefs being attacked as punch lines in drama series."

The Washington Times reports that the study logged "treatments" of religion, such as references to church services, denominations or to Scripture, as well as references to clergy and devout laity. Clergy and religious institutions were cast "strikingly" negative; laity only a little less so, it said.

To be counted as negative in the study, religion had to be treated in a derogatory manner or treated without respect in a specific instance.

Several incidents were cited, such as a 17 December episode of Fox's "That '70s Show" that referred to a couple having sex next to a manger scene; a 5 August episode of NBC's "Last Comic Standing" that referred to Catholicism as a religion that awards a "get-out-of-hell-free card" to anyone but pedophile priests; and a dialogue in a 10 February episode of NBC's "Will and Grace" in which sidekick Karen tells lead character Grace, "Let's go buy that historic church and turn it into a gay bar."

NBC spokeswoman Allison Gollust said the network could not comment on the study because it had not seen it, but she said, "We reject its conclusion."

"Our programming reflects the diversity of our audience, which averages more than 10 million viewers per night," she said. "It is never our intention to appear nor do we accept the notion that we are 'anti-religious.' "

Frank Wright, president of the National Religious Broadcasters, called the negativity "systemic" around Hollywood, adding that "a disinterested observer might conclude there is some kind of anti-faith collusion taking place."

Prime-time religion "is like producing a sports highlight film where all you do is show the players' strike-outs but never their home runs," he said. At best, he added, screenwriters and directors show a "creative laziness" in not bothering to research how religious people think or act.

Religious references on prime-time TV are up, council researchers said, in comparison with a similar 1997 study that found only 551 treatments of religion in 1800 hours of programming. The more recent study found 2344 treatments of religion in 2,385 hours.

"That's one treatment per hour, a threefold increase, which is good," Mr. Bozell said. "But religion continues to be a negative in the entertainment industry."

"No one is suggesting every program ought to be about St. Teresa," he added. "That's not the point. One wishes that an institution that purports to reflect reality would simply do that."

Reality of TV: It slams religion (Washington Times 17/12/04)

Parents Television Council | PTC Study Finds Hollywood Slighting Americans' Overwhelming Belief in God | Text of study

Networks' rejection of church ad said to violate free speech rights (Catholic News Service 17/12/04)
Study: Religion Portrayed Negatively on TV (The Herald-Sun Durham North Carolina/Associated Press 17/12/04)

20 Dec 2004