WASHINGTON – Americans who watch more hours of television tend to be less committed to classical virtues such as honesty and fairness and less likely to value religious principles, according to a conservative media watchdog.
In a study commissioned by the Culture and Media Institute (CMI), 47 percent of light TV viewers (one hour or less per evening) attend church frequently compared to 28 percent of heavy TV viewers (four or more hours). And while 29 percent of light TV viewers rarely or never attend church, the number jumps to 51 percent among heavy TV viewers.
Moreover, 43 percent of light TV viewers try to live by God's principles compared to 32 percent of heavy TV viewers.
Measuring how the general American public perceives the impact of news and entertainment media, the study found the majority of Americans believe the media have a negative effect on moral values in America.
Another major finding in the study, titled "The Media Assault on American Values," revealed that the more television a person watches, the less likely the person is to believe the media are negatively impacting the nation's moral values.
According to the newly released study, 76 percent of light TV viewers see the media's impact as negative, but only 58 percent of heavy TV viewers agree. Also, only 6 percent of light TV viewers believe the media are helping moral values while 14 percent of heavy viewers see a positive effect.
Some five decades ago, television had presented a traditional perspective on life that was more consistent with the values parents held, according to Dr. S. Robert Lichter, president of Center for Media and Public Affairs.
"That world did exist," he said Wednesday at the release of the report whose cover depicts mainstream media as soldiers attacking such traditional institutions as family and church.
Today, viewers frequently find sexualized content on television. Thirty-nine percent of light TV viewers say sex between unmarried adults is always wrong compared to 26 percent of heavy TV viewers. A recent episode of CBS' popular Two and a Half Men featured a casual conversation between lead character Charlie and Myra just after they had sex in a coat closet at the wedding of her brother Herb and Judith. "I'm two for two at Judith's weddings," said Charlie in the April episode. He later says, "[W]hat about funerals? Can you beat a three-way in a hearse?"
"This is not unusual for television," said Robert Knight, director of the Culture and Media Institute, as he presented the study results.
Overall, 74 percent of Americans believe the nation's moral values have declined over the past 20 years and 68 percent say the media have a negative impact on moral values. Also, 64 percent agree the media are an important factor in shaping moral values in this country.
Today, however, national broadcast and cable networks and newspapers have lost huge chunks of their audience. As L. Brent Bozell III, founder and president of Media Research Center, put it, "The national media are on a meltdown." Meanwhile, Americans are flooding radio talk show programs and the top 20 recently listed (ranked by listening audience) were all conservative, according to Michael Medved who hosts one of the most popular radio talk shows.
Forty-four percent of Americans see the news media tilting left; 27 percent say news media are balanced; and 17 percent say the news media favors conservatives.
"Given the fact that you have such a clear indication that people see the media as biased ... why, with the profit-motive operative, do you still have the media clearly tilting left and people recognize that they tilt to the left," posed Medved.
But there has been progress, Medved noted, with the rise of religion in media, including Hollywood. This past weekend, two movies debuted at the box office – "Knocked Up" and "Mr. Brooks." Both debuted in the top five and although not faith-based, both had pro-life messages, Medved pointed out. The messages are reflective of the sharp drop of abortions in the United States since 1980 from 43 percent to 22 percent per 1,000 teens, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.
So there is progress, said Medved.
Still, the media's impact is negative, the majority of Americans believe. And Medved does not just point to the quality of what the media presents. The "problem is high quantity, not low quality," he said.
Medved clarified that the study measures differential correlation based upon the quantity of television a person watches and not the quality.
"We need to employ increasingly demand-side solutions, not supply-side solutions," he urged. "We have been increasingly concerned with what Hollywood makes and not what we take."
"The Media Assault on American Values" report is the second in a series of reports of CMI's National Cultural Values Survey. The overall study was conducted on 2,000 American adults in December 2006.