Religion Almost Irrelevant to Network News, Study Says: Annual Plea for Better Coverage Falls on Deaf TV Ears

By Witham, Larry | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), March 26, 1997 | Go to article overview

Religion Almost Irrelevant to Network News, Study Says: Annual Plea for Better Coverage Falls on Deaf TV Ears


Witham, Larry, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


Network TV news is casting a blind eye toward religious events that affect most Americans, according to a report released yesterday.

Of 176,000 reports on the five major networks' evening and morning news shows from 1993 to 1996, about 1 percent touched on religion, according to a report issued by the Media Research Center.

"Religion plays a vital role in the lives of most Americans, but it is almost irrelevant to the electronic news media, based on national TV news coverage," L. Brent Bozell III, director of the research center, said at a news conference.

"It looks even worse when we put together the total numbers for the past four years because it demonstrates the networks' desire not to cover religion," he said.

Media Research's findings summarized four years of its annual "Faith in a Box" content analysis report, which involves tedious review of prime-time news and morning magazine programs.

To illustrate the opportunities TV news missed, Mr. Bozell listed 12 major religion stories from last year and compared how print and broadcast media reported those stories.

While the five networks - CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox and CNN - deployed resources for hardly any of the stories, reporters at The Washington Times found time to cover every one of them, he said.

"Each year we've studied the subject, the networks have ignored the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion," he said. "The State Department created a panel of 20 religious leaders and scholars to monitor religious liberty abroad, but that wasn't considered newsworthy."

In the realm of prime-time news, the study showed that ABC's "World News Tonight" aired the most religion stories last year, with 76, and CNN's "The World Tomorrow" was second, with 64.

Of the 26,000 reports on all the networks last year, only 268 - or about 1 percent - addressed religion, the Media Research Center reported.

The Catholic Church got the most coverage, with 133 reports, which were mostly brief notes. Reports on Protestant groups were "nearly absent," with six on Episcopalians ranking highest.

Also, Jewish topics were covered 16 times, Muslims 15 times, Buddhists five times, Mormons twice and Greek Orthodox once in the evening newscasts. …

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