WASHINGTON (AP) _ The television networks are so badly slanting the gun control debate they have become the ``communications division of the anti-gun lobby,'' says the head of a conservative media watchdog group that studied the issue.

The Media Research Center, chaired by Brent Bozell, released a study Wednesday on two years of television news stories on gun control.

The study analyzed the morning shows and evening newscasts between July 1, 1997 and June 30, 1999 on ABC, CBS, CNN and NBC.

In many cases, the study claimed, pro-gun themes were not covered and gun proponents were not given air time.

``There's a powerful pervasive bias in the media,'' said Oliver North, the former Iran-Contra figure who now hosts a political talk show on MSNBC and is a national board member of the National Rifle Association. ``This blitz of bias is having an extraordinary impact on public policy and legal opinion.''

CNN spokesman David Bittler defended its reporting saying, ``We do not advocate for or against any particular position and we stand behind the balance and fairness that goes into all our reporting.''

Calls made to the three other networks were not immediately returned.

The issue of guns has increasingly been in the news as the nation has grappled with school shootings in places like Littleton, Colo., Paducah, Ky. and Pearl, Miss.

Bozell's group says it examined 653 morning and evening news stories on gun policy issues and found that stories advocating more gun control outnumbered stories opposing gun control 357 to 36 or a ratio of 10 to 1. The group said 260 stories were neutral.

Naomi Paiss, spokeswoman for Handgun Control, said the complaints were unfounded. ``This is clearly the comedy press conference with which to start off the new year.''