True or False: Only 3 percent of businesspeople are engaged in "socially useful or economically productive" behavior.

If you said false, you must have been thinking of the real world, not television. A study conducted by the Washington-based Media Institute says the above statement is correct so far as the way businesspeople are portrayed on prime-time TV.

The same study found that more than half of all corporate chiefs on TV committed illegal acts ranging from fraud to murder.

A special PBS program entitled Hollywood's Favorite Heavy: Businessmen on Prime-Time TV declared, "By the age of 18, the average kid has seen businessmen on TV attempt over 10,000 murders." Narrator Eli Wallach noted that corporate executives on TV "seem to make an awful lot of money, without ever having to work hard or produce useful products. To succeed, all they seem to do is lie, cheat, blackmail, even murder."

The anti-business bias of the major networks has been apparent for years. It not only saturates prime-time entertainment shows, but coverage of the news as well.

Herb Schmertz, a Mobil Oil vice president, was quoted on this subject by columnist Allan C. Brownfield in Human Events. Schmertz said: "Lacking the proper background, they tend to oversimplify and to look for heros and villains. There are reporters covering business stories who do not understand such basic concepts as the difference between earnings and revenues, or between profits and profitability. There are reporters who seem not to understand the difference between owners and managers. It's as if a sportswriter covering a football game did not know the difference between a fourth-down punt and a field goal."

In his study, "TV News and the Dominant Culture," John Corry, television critic for The New York Times, states that an intellectual culture "rooted firmly on the political left" determines the criteria for what constitutes a good news story, and which subjects are to be avoided.

A blockbuster of a recent book by researchers S. Robert Lichter, Stanley Rothman and Linda S. Lichter, entitled The Media Elite, if full of facts, figures, and examples which show an overwhelmingly liberal, anti-business slant in the American media. In 1972, when more than 60 percent of all voters chose Richard Nixon, more than 80 percent of those who produce and anchor network news programs voted for George McGovern. In fact, in every presidential election from 1964 to 1976, the percentage of "the media elite" voting for the liberal Democrat candidate never fell below 80 percent.

Are businesspeople, so unfairly portrayed in the television business, innocent victims in this subtle attack? Not on your life. Too many of them are actually contributors to the problem.

Who pays for the advertising on the very shows which habitually peddle anti-business themes? Businesspeople that's who. They ought to use their advertising dollars with more discretion, to say the least.

It so happens that "the media elite" are among the best educated people in the country. And they often aren't shy about pointing to their days as students of left-wing professors as the genesis of their hostility towards business. All the while, businesspeople were writing generous checks to their colleges and sometimes to the very departments promoting the most left-wing causes.

My point is that if media bias is to be countered, businesspeople must take the lead by being more selective in who they give their money to. After all, they are under no moral or legal obligation to finance their own destruction.

Before writing those checks, I suggest they check on the politics of the economics, political science, and journalism department. If private property, the profit motive and the free enterprise ethic are not given at least a fair shake, then forget those places. There are colleges and other institutions which are either even-handed or vigorously free enterprise and need the money.

Another approach would be for business to fund speakers, printed matter, seminars, or other programs to explain the case for business and free enterprise within the academic community. Some of that is done now, but it's dwarfed by the millions that businesspeople blindly throw at colleges every year.

When businesspeople fund the very people who despise them, they shouldn't be surprised at what ends up on television.