Evangelicals in Canadian national television news, 1994-2004 : a frame analysis of reports from global, CBC and CTV television networks and a survey of national television journalists
Haskell, David Millard
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This study employed two primary research techniques: a frame analysis and a survey. The frame analysis examined the portrayals of evangelicals and evangelicalism in national, nightly news reports airing between 1994 and 2004. For the survey, national television news personnel were questioned about their attitudes towards religion in general and evangelicals in particular. A comparison of the findings from the frame analysis and the survey was conducted to determine if linkages exist between how national television journalists feel about evangelicals and how they report on evangelicals. The frame analysis of the reports determined that neutral and positive frames combined were virtually equivalent in strength and number to the negative frames used, resulting in an overall, averaged rating of balanced for the coverage. While overall the coverage was balanced, the frequency and exclusivity of certain negative frames elevated their saliency considerably. For example, the "evangelicals as intolerant'' frame alone appeared in one quarter of all reports; evangelicals were also frequently framed as politically-threatening and criminally-minded. Other research has shown a correlation exists between repetitive viewing of specific, similar content on television and the holding of specific perceptions or beliefs about the world. By extension, concentrated depictions of evangelicals as intolerant, politically-threatening, and criminally-minded, might lead to viewers' acceptance of those messages as valid. The survey showed that a strong majority of [he responding television journalist have no religious faith or do not actively practice the faith they say they hold. Over half said they felt they had nothing in common with evangelicals religiously and over a third said they shared no common ground with evangelicals on social issues. Regarding those social issues for which they are at odds with evangelicals, a strong majority of respondents said they felt evangelicals were wrong lo oppose homosexual rights and gay marriage; over half thought evangelicals stand against abortion was wrong. By comparing the survey responses to the results of the frame analysis it became clear that the journalists' attitudes toward evangelicals affected their coverage of members of that faith. In particular, two factors were determined to be predictors of journalists' negative framing of evangelicals: 1) the evangelical being covered had to espouse a belief, or demonstrate an action, that ran contrary to the journalist's personal beliefs or ideals; 2) the evangelical's belief or action had to somehow, according to the journalist's perception, threaten the public good. If the second criterion was not present, it was less likely (though not out of the question) that the evangelical would be framed negatively. The actions of the journalists suggest that they see themselves as protectors of the public good: by subjecting evangelicals to negative coverage they are able to delegitimize the evangelicals' message and thus, limit that faith group's ability to challenge and change the status quo.
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