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A Minute for Parents

by JoAnn Hamilton

Television's negative portrayals of religion

Parents who care about religious values need to realize that on scripted television dramas and comedies, devout laity is overwhelmingly depicted as hypocritical, clergy as depraved and religious institutions as hopelessly corrupt, according to Parents Television Council, "Faith in a Box: New PTC Study Documents Contempt for Religion on Prime Time Television," PTC Insider, Volume 9, Number 1, p. 1.

This article stated: "While most Americans have a healthy belief in and respect for God and religion, the same cannot be assumed of the ‘creative' professionals responsible for the entertainment media's scripted programming, proving—yet again—the disconnection from their viewers."

The study I am quoting was the PTC's seventh study of religion on broadcast television. They looked at one year of programming, over 2000 hours from September 2005 to August 2006. It is interesting that there were half as many portrayals of religion in 2005-2006 (1,425) as in 2003-2004 (2,344).

You will notice in this study that in 2005-2006, there were more negative depictions of religion than positive ones. PTC reported that "at no time during prime time, and on no network did the positive portrayal of religion even hit the 50% mark." A majority (57.8%) of the positive portrayals of religion were found on reality programs. "By contrast, an overwhelming percentage (95.5%) of the negative portrayals of religion came from Hollywood-scripted drama and comedy programs; only 4.5% of negative portrayals of religion were found on reality shows." Fox was by far, according the PTC study, the most anti-religious.

We all need to understand that "the number of negative portrayals increased steadily with each hour of prime time. Negative treatments constituted 31.9% of all treatments in the 8 p.m. hour, 33.9% in the 9 p.m. hour and 44.4% in the 10 o'clock hour" (Ibid.).

"Devout laity - non-clerical individuals who profess religious faith - were treated most negatively by entertainment programs. Over half (50.8%) of all entertainment television's depictions of laity were negaive. Only 27% were positive" (Ibid.).

"Close behind in negative portrayal were religious institutions (such as particular denominations, specific religious beliefs or direct references to Scripture), nearly half (47.6%) of which were negative. By contrast, only 28% of depictions of religious institutions were positive" (Ibid.).

Prime time television's portrayals of clergy was that less than a third of depictions of references to clergy were positive and two-thirds were negative.

This study found that the only depictions of religious faith – showing individuals making a simple declaration of belief in God or a higher power, or praying – was television's portrayal of religion largely positive. Over two-thirds (69.6%) of such portrayals were positive.

I hope parents realize the power of the media in teaching children patterns of behavior as well as attitudes and beliefs. While parents take children to church, I wonder if that will counteract what they laugh at on television. I personally side with the parents who are turning off the tube.

For more information on the "Faith in a Box Special Report," log onto www.parentstv.org.

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