by Melodie Davis
for release May 5, 2000
The most watched TV program around the world is “Baywatch,” according to John Peterson, director of public media for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. It used to be “Dallas.” I find that frightening. What do people think of North America after watching these shows?
At a recent conference for religious communicators from around the world, journalists and media experts reminded us how people in different parts of the world see those of us in North America. Visitors from Rwanda, Hong Kong, Tonga and Argentina helped me to step out of my wired world for a reality check. Viliami (Bill) Fakekaono, from Tonga (a group of islands about 2,400 miles southwest of Hawaii) said that most programs on the air there are U.S. programs. “What are religious communicators doing about that?” he challenged (and he was talking to a worldwide group). Of course it is a big question, with solutions bigger than any single individual or group. But the fact remains that producers only make money when they sell the shows around the world. Long-time TV researcher George Gerbner says, “You can't break even on the domestic market. So you produce assembly line action programs which are exportable to the rest of the world.” (See Third Way Café, at http://www.thirdway.com/btnc/btncmoney.shtml)
Bill reminded us that world-wide access to current technology is not a level playing field. Those of us who use computers, e-mail, and the Internet all day long in the course of our jobs tend to forget that most of the world is not on line (even in our backyards). In the Tonga Islands, telephone cabling is a hot item--people sometimes steal cabling from wealthier homes. Only three of the islands are even wired for telephones. In general, I have heard that only about half the population of the world has ever made a telephone call. So on the unwired Tonga Islands, there are no modems or faxes, no Internet. However, they are still soaking up everything they can learn about the newest technology so that when it does become available, “we won’t waste a minute.” An ethical issue is that entrepreneurs from other countries are buying up the logical Internet “domain” addresses that people in Tonga might eventually want to use. For instance, if you had a business in Tonga called Tonga Supplies, you might want your Internet address to be TongaSupplies, but when you contact the companies that assign these domain names, you learn that some speculator has already purchased the rights to that name even though they have no such company. You can’t get it without paying thousands or millions of dollars.
Maria Valeria Buquiere, Buenos Aires, a teacher at a Catholic school in Argentina, said that while Buenos Aires has access to technology, in her school there is no money for computers to be connected to the Internet. Finally Julienne Munyaneza a journalist from Rwanda reminded us that too often, the rest of the world finds out about a particular country or area in Africa when there’s a war or disaster; then journalists from around the world flock to the area for three days to three weeks, and attempt to report what they have learned. “Our people need to be empowered [or trained] to report to the rest of the world themselves,” she noted. This is a slightly different issue but part of the whole picture that access to technology is power.
So what? What should we in the technology-rich areas of the world do with the resources we’ve been given?
Tom Boomershine, from United Theological Seminary, Dayton, Ohio, urges easing the technology gap in your own neighborhood. One way is to make computers and Internet connections available in the local church. Obviously, you would want to use Internet screening/shielding devices to block objectionable sites, but I thought this was a wonderful idea for local outreach and service. If your own children do have computer connections, make sure they use it to connect with children in other parts of the world. Of course you can’t connect with an unwired island in Tonga or modem-less classroom in Buenos Aires, but many many connections with classrooms and individuals are available when you take advantage of them.
Have other ideas? Send to: Melodie Davis, Another Way c/o Name\Address of YOUR newspaper; or e-mail: Melodie@mennomedia.org.
You can also visit Another Way on the Web at www.thirdway.com.
Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from a number of organizations including the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three growing daughters.
NOTES TO EDITORS: text = 705 words; end material = 105 words
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