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Study: TV treats faith unfairly

A study of television's treatment of religion has found that matters of faith are addressed more in broadcast networks' shows, but mostly in a negative manner, the Parents Television Council has announced.

The council in Los Angeles worked in conjunction with the National Religious Broadcasters to release the study titled "Faith in a Box: Entertainment Television and Religion."

Researchers found that NBC led other major networks in negative depictions of faith, with 9.5 negative treatments for every positive treatment. It was followed by Fox, with 2.4 negative depictions for each positive one and 1.2 negative for each positive treatment by WB and ABC.

"Religion and the public expression of faith is a crucial element in the lives of most Americans," said L. Brent Bozell, president of the council, in a Dec. 16 statement. "Our findings should challenge Hollywood to accurately reflect this in television content."

Council analysts reviewed prime-time programs on seven commercial broadcast networks _ ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, PAX, UPN and WB _ between Sept. 25, 2003, and Sept. 24, 2004. They found that 2,385 hours of programming on those networks contained 2,344 treatments of religion _ ranging from a brief prayer to "the actual presence of God in a scene." That demonstrated a marked increase from the council's last study on religion in 1997, when researchers found 551 treatments of religion in 1,800 hours of programming.

While references to faith were the most commonly related to religion, the study also looked at treatment of religion as an institution, depictions of clergy and devout lay people and miscellaneous references to religion.

Analysts found that more than 32 percent of television's depictions of religious institutions and doctrines were negative, while 11.7 percent of such depictions were positive.

Depictions of clergy were negative 36.2 percent of the time, compared with 14.6 percent positive. Depictions of devout laity were 33.3 percent negative and 20.4 percent positive.

Frank Wright, president of the National Religious Broadcasters, said of the findings: "This comprehensive study shows a clear disparity between the religious beliefs of most Americans and how these beliefs are reflected in television programming."