Recently, Kathleen and I had the opportunity to be the keynote speakers at the annual conference for the Association of Christian Media in Johannesburg, South Africa. We had about 150 leaders in attendance, and some had to be turned away. The attendees represented a wide range of communicators across Africa, from radio, TV, print, Internet, social media, and more. The attendance was the largest in the organization’s history, and as usual, the incredible experience taught me a few things about using the media to share our faith with the world:
1) Major radio and TV networks need to think more locally. For instance, although there are many international TV networks like God-TV, TBN, SAT-7, and others, the most popular programs are often the most local. People like to see local leaders and ministries address concerns and issues they wrestle with in their area. Watching a major TV evangelist from the United States isn’t always what someone in the African bush can identify with. Local voices matter – and trust me – there are some good ones out there.
2) We should be more culturally sensitive. It’s such a waste when major American ministries broadcast their programs internationally with no changes for international viewers. The very reason MTV, CNN, Discovery, and other networks are so popular globally is that they localize and reflect the culture of the region. There is “MTV India,” “MTV Africa,” “MTV Russia,” and many other expressions of that network. Each one has local hosts and their branding reflects the appropriate region. We could learn something about that when it comes to religious broadcasting.
3) Internationally, we need more women’s voices. Over and over, Africans affectionally call Joyce Meyer: “Auntie Joyce.” They love her because in her program, they see a strong woman express her faith in God, and comment on the many challenges of daily living. So many global cultures are patriarchal, so it’s a powerful thing for them to hear from a female perspective. I’m told that in many Muslim cultures, once the husband has left for work, their wives watch Joyce’s program in secret because they’re so desperate to hear from a female leader. (Talk about an opportunity for evangelism.)
4) Stop producing and start partnering. So often we think of other countries as needing our help, when the opposite is true. They understand the need far better than us, and are already producing some remarkably innovative programming to meet those needs. Just as other countries are sending missionaries to the United States, they’re also often leading the way in communications – especially when it comes to mobile platforms. Let’s stop thinking we’re the only answer, and start partnering with these young communicators to help them reach their cultures more effectively.
5) Mobile is the future. One of the participants – Phil Anderson, the Communications Coordinator for the Global Mission Communications Department for the Church of the Nazarene made a remarkable statement: “A cell phone to an African is life.” While broadband rates are still high in some countries, everyone – and I do mean everyone – has a cell phone. China is feverishly working on an ultra-cheap mobile device, and when that happens, the world will change once again. Traditional TV and radio will always be around, but we need to start investing in mobile programming and media strategies right now. In fact, that’s going to be a major focus of our company, Cooke Pictures, for the future. For the next generation globally, it’s about accessing entertainment options in the palm of their hand.
How about you? Do you see other critical things on the horizon when it comes to international media?