Study of mainstream journalists reveals bias

Former TV news reporter David Haskell, now a Wilfred Laurier University journalism professor, documents in this landmark doctoral study how our national TV news reporters, writers and editors view and portray Canada's evangelicals, and why.

This first-ever quantitative and qualitative research did "frame analysis" on the 119 nightly national CBC, CTV and Global news stories about Canada's evangelicals from January 1, 1994 to January 1, 2005. Haskell also analyzed e-mail and phone responses to open-ended questions from 21 reporters, copy-writers and editors of this news copy.

Such stories peaked in 2000 when Stockwell Day became federal opposition leader. Though CBC carried the fewest stories (28), they devoted the most words to coverage of evangelicals (38,133). By topic, 29 per cent of their coverage focused on politics, 17 per cent on crime/immorality, 14 per cent each on social activism and religious observance/theology.
Twenty stories depicted evangelicals' opposition to homosexuals, 60 per cent of these noted their "outdated" intolerance.

Haskell also interviewed 21 reporters, copy-writers and editors about their views on evangelicals. Two thirds of the journalists who responded to Haskell's questions identified as atheists, agnostics or those not practising any religion.

Among the 21 journalists were two United Church members, employed by CTV and CBC. Two Roman Catholics were also among them, employed by CTV and Global and two evangelicals worked at Global. Only four of the 21 said they regularly pray and attend church.

The journalists were also asked to identify their opinions of evangelicals. Eight "saw arrogant self-righteousness as one of the dominant traits of evangelical Christians," Haskell reports. Six respondents mentioned evangelicals' high view of Scripture and desire to spread the gospel. Five journalists referred to evangelicals' devotion to God/Christ and objection to abortion.

Fifteen respondents said they disagreed with evangelicals' opposition homosexuals and gay marriage. Fifteen respondents cited mainstream media as their primary source of information about evangelicals. Twelve respondents saw no similarity between their beliefs and those of evangelicals, including nine of 10 CBC reporters.

No wonder they portray evangelicals as "intolerant," "criminally-minded," "un-Canadian," "arrogant" and "self-righteous." No wonder they fail to distinguish between their own opinions and fact. No wonder 31 per cent of Canadians say they would be uneasy meeting an evangelical.
Haskell promises a similar analysis of Canada's print news in a forthcoming chapter in Religion Unbound, edited by William Acres. All of Canada's journalists and academics need to read both studies. So do leaders of Canada's churches, missions, educational institutions and other charities. Haskell shows how evangelical leaders need to "clean the lens."

The next question is: who will do such studies on the views of Canada's academics, judiciary, bureaucrats, politicians, layers and similar cultural elites?

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About the author


Al Hiebert, PhD, currently serves as President of Growing Up In Christ, Inc. Previously he served as the first Executive Director of Christian Higher Education Canada, as Assistant Director of the Association for Biblical Higher Education and for 33 years as Professor of Theology and Philosophy, first at Providence University College and Seminary and then at Briercrest Seminary.

About the author