ACN News: Thursday, 21st June 2012 - MIDDLE EAST & NORTH AFRICA
Information and dialogue – more and more Muslims are switching on to the Christian TV station Sat7
By Reinhard Backes
Ignorance can lead to stereotyping and spark conflicts – only reliable information can help to overcome both. This applies no less to the countries of the Middle East and North Africa, where Christians constitute a minority among millions of Muslims. This is one of the reasons why Sat7, a Christian TV station specifically for the Arab world, Iran and Turkey, has been broadcasting to the region for the past 16 years with its programmes.
The challenges are considerable. Whereas in the 19th century Christians made up roughly 20% of the population in the Middle East and North Africa, today they account for only 4% – and dwindling. Many are leaving the region, because the social climate in regard to non-Muslims is becoming ever more intolerant – and the most recent political upheavals have only intensified this trend. Corruption and widespread social injustice together create more foot soldiers for the extremists. Knowledge about Christians and Christianity is minimal, and crass misconceptions abound. Many Muslims – like their Christian compatriots – view Western policies with mistrust.
It was for this reason that the TV station Sat7 was originally founded in the mid-1990s, says Kurt Johansen, the director of the European office of Sat7 in the Danish town of Christiansfeld. Its headquarters are in Nicosia, on the island of Cyprus. The satellite TV station has been broadcasting since 1996, reporting for Christians – and above all about Christians and their faith. In the overwhelmingly Muslim countries of the region, with a total population of around 200 million souls and over 300 TV stations, Sat7 seeks above all to reach out to non-Christians, informing them about the Christian faith and making its values understandable to them. It is an approach that is well received by many Muslims. Officially responsible for Sat7 are the Christian Churches of the Middle East and North Africa. Every year the station receives funding to the tune of around $(US)12 million in donations, three quarters of which comes from Christians in the United States and Europe. The international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) has been supporting Sat7 regularly since 1999, mainly funding technical equipment for the various TV Studios.
(Kurt Johansen, the director of the European office of Sat7)
Since many millions of people in the region cannot read or write, and since the use of satellite TV dishes is widespread, the station focuses on this technology. Sat7 makes use of the Hotbird satellites and can consequently also be received in Europe. It broadcasts 24 hours a day on four channels in two languages, Arabic and Farsi (Persian). A Turkish programme is also offered, though currently for only four hours daily. The studio in Istanbul is currently still under construction.
Among the topics broadcast are talk shows covering everyday life and educational issues and also issues of faith, interviews with experts and contributions explaining the Christian faith. Religious services and magazine or game shows are also broadcast. Particularly popular, according to Kurt Johansen, are the "docudramas" retelling the biblical stories, which correspond to a widespread tradition of storytelling in the Middle East. For children and young people, an age-group who switch on particularly frequently, there is a dedicated channel, Sat7 Kids that has been on air since December 2007. Its programmes include general knowledge and entertainment, children's shows and reports from the Arab world.
(Close to the Universal Church. Television can be a bridge to isolated Christians)
Sat7 never addresses political issues, and avoids all criticism of internal conditions within the Arab world. Equally, commentary on other religions is taboo. Where potentially controversial issues arise, such as the role of women, human rights, issues of sexuality, drug abuse or HIV, the editors and presenters are under orders to proceed with great sensitivity and reserve. As a result Sat7 has garnered a considerable reputation and the goodwill of the authorities – which is essential if the broadcasts are to continue without disruption. Another aspect that may well have contributed to its good name is the fact that almost 80% of the programmes broadcast are produced in the Middle East, while the station also maintains studios in Egypt and Lebanon. Two thirds of the more than 100 staff also come from the countries of the region.
Not even all of this can guarantee absolute security, of course, since for many this Christian station is a thorn in the side – especially since Sat7 now has an audience/viewing public of millions. According to a survey commissioned by Sat7 in 2011 in the region covered by its programmes, the station has around 7 million regular viewers. Another indication of the growing interest in the programmes offered by Sat7 is the increasing number of viewers who contact the station, says Kurt Johansen.
Directly under the Holy See, Aid to the Church in Need supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in pastoral need. ACN is a Catholic charity – helping to bring Christ to the world through prayer, information and action.
The charity undertakes thousands of projects every year including providing transport for clergy and lay Church workers, construction of church buildings, funding for priests and nuns and help to train seminarians. Since the initiative’s launch in 1979, Aid to the Church in Need’s Child’s Bible – God Speaks to his Children has been translated into 162 languages and 48 million copies have been distributed all over the world.
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