Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Media and Christians: Bias

Phil Helliwell

With the exponential growth and influence of the media, some religious groups have found their representation in the media less than to their satisfaction. Christians, in particular, from Fundamentalists to Catholics (Castelli & Rogers, 1995), generally are critical toward the media for their alleged bias held against nearly all facets of Christian existence. Are the Christians here correct in perceiving the media as biased, or are they biased themselves?

A prevalent theoretical perspective of studies concerned with media bias is the Hostile Media Effect, “which argues for the tendency of partisans on a controversial issue to see a neutral news coverage of that issue as biased in favor of the other side” (Glascock, Livesay & Ruggiero, 2008); “partisanship”, in this case, concerning those individuals involved (professionally and personally) in the fields of science, the military and socially conservative organizations, among others (Glascock, etc, 2008). This perspective could explain the consistent opposition and mistrust by Christians leveled at the media. But perhaps the effect of Christian groups on the media itself could be partly to blame. Fundamentalist groups, especially in the US, have a strong predilection to keep religion in politics (Kerr, 2003) which may go against the general religious assumptions held by those in the media, who lean towards a liberal Christian view (Glascock, etc, 2008).

But is the media biased? Despite their obvious opposition to the media, Christians, from varied backgrounds, have provided valid points that suggest the media could be biased. They draw attention to the disproportionate amount of media coverage of religion compared to its role in society, the lack of dedicated religion reporters and widespread ignorance on the topic as a whole (Castelli & Rogers, 1995). Is the media biased, or can it simply not cover religion successfully?

Some Christians react against the media’s actions in particular ways which may create avenues for bias to be perpetuated in Christian circles; an example being that media personal are seldom religious, let alone Christian (Lowry, 1999). On the other hand, by their own record, the media seems largely incompetent when covering issues related to religion. Eileen McNamara of the Boston Globe summed the situation when covering the controversial issue of abortion, “At base abortion isn’t about politics, and it isn’t about the law. It’s about philosophy and it’s about morality and it’s about your world view, and newspapers are ill-equipped to deal with those issues” (Surratt, 1993).


Castelli, Jim; Rogers, Christine, Why can't religion get good press?, U.S. Catholic
Jul 1995; 60, 7; Academic Research Library, p6

Glascock, Jack, Livesay, Curtis B. and Ruggiero, Thomas E. Religious Involvement, Audience Demographics, and Media Bias, Journal of Media and Religion
7:4, 2008, 256 - 270

Kerr, P. A. The framing of fundamentalist Christians: Network television
news, 1980–2000. Journal of Media and Religion
2, 2003, p203–235.

Richard Lowry, Truth, morality, and the media: The highest priests of journalism, Vital Speeches of the Day;
Sep 1, 1999; 65, 22; p694

Surratt, Marshall N, Can media 'get' religion?, Christianity Today
Jul 19, 1993; 37, 8 p15

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