US television portraying religion in a negative light: Study

MUMBAI: Television entertainment programmes in the US mention God more often than they did in the mid-1990s but tend to depict organised religion negatively

This information is contained in a study conducted by the Parents Television Council (PTC) and the National Religious Broadcasters. PTC claims to be America's most influential advocacy organisation protecting children against sex, violence and profanity in entertainment

Faith in a Box: Entertainment Television and Religion found that television's treatment of religion has become increasingly negative and doesn't reflect the viewpoints of a majority of Americans. The study also found that US broadcaster NBC by far leads the other major networks in terms of the number of negative depictions of faith.

2,385 hours of primetime entertainment programming on the seven commercial broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, Pax, UPN, WB) were analysed. They contained 2,344 treatments of religion. In the PTC's last study on religion, done in 1997, the PTC found only 551 treatments of religion in 1,800 hours of programming.

NBC programming had 9.5 negative treatments for every positive treatment of faith. Fox followed with 2.4 negative depictions for each one that was positive. WB and ABC tied with 1.2 negative for each positive.

Negativity toward religion grew steadily with each passing hour of prime time. During the 7 pm hour, religious content was negative 16.9 per cent of the time. In the 8 pm hour, 20.8 per cent of instances were negative. In the 9 pm hour, 27.5 per cent of instances were negative, and in the 10 pm hour, 28.2 per cent were negative.

The treatment of religion in an institutional or doctrinal context (such as a reference to a church service, a particular denomination, or to Scripture) was strikingly negative. More than 32 per cent of TV's treatments of religious institutions and doctrine were negative while only 11.7 percent of such treatments were positive.

Negative depictions of the clergy were more than twice as frequent as positive depictions - 36.2 per cent negative compared to 14.6 per cent positive. Representations of devout laity tended to be negative more than positive, but to a lesser degree than in the past - 33.3 per cent negative compared to 20.4 percent positive. In the 1997 study, only 7.9 per cent of the treatments were positive, whereas a staggering 78.9 per cent were negative.

Among the positive examples, the PTC cites a Jag episode where a character prays to God to say hello to her dead mother, and an American Dreams episode where an actor playing a medical student says a surgery is partially in God's hands. In India Jag airs on Star World.

PTC president L. Brent Bozell said, " Religion and the public expression of faith is a crucial element in the lives of most Americans. Our findings should challenge Hollywood to accurately reflect this in television content. I am not suggesting that all television programming ought to be about St. Teresa or even be all positive about religion. However Hollywood should keep in mind the overall picture it presents to viewers."

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