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What I Learned from African Media Professionals

Not long ago, 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 Media Group, 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?

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  1. Maybe I should have been more convincing about mobile when we shared time at the VSN Leadership summit some years back. Would have thought Cooke Pictures would have been on a 3rd or 4th iteration of mobile projects at this time. Well, if you are looking for some insight and assistance in this space, it would be great to meet in a future conversation.

  2. Excellent! Learning so much from your blog and books. Thank you Phil and Kathleen for sharing with us at the ACM Conference in South Africa. To say my dream and vision has been ignited, would be an understatement.

  3. A very nice article! This is so true about International TV programs aired in India. While its really nice to hear from international preachers, Its so true that we want to hear from our own local preachers and ministries. However, a lot needs to be done in this aspect. Partnering with local ministries for media is one thing, for them to agree with international programing formats is another thing.
    However, Its nice that Phil has mentioned these points in the article.
    I too am looking for ways in which the international will meet the local and bring some life changing Christian programing.

  4. Phil
    Some good thoughts here. As another ‘down under’ resident it’s always made me wonder why some US Ministries don’t consider how to make their programs more acceptable on the international scene.
    You post is a step in the right direction.

  5. Phil we not only need Christian programs that are culturally sensitive, but preachers too! Often while preaching, they share a joke, an incident etc which either people are unable to catch or identify with. Also, it is very important to understand the needs of the region/area/country/city in order for the preaching to be relevant to current or local issues. Its not just in Africa that mobile is life. In India too! 😊

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