Youth Television Creates Peace
an article by Megan Niedermeyer
Nowadays it is easy to dwell on the ill effects of television towards children - guns, sexual discrimination, violence, gender stereotyping, not to mention a news media that is saturated with war and obsessed with images and tales of domination and repression.
But in some places, television is doing what it has never done before. It is teaching children from ethnically polarized communities what it really means to love your neighbor. It is teaching children to get along, even when their parents and brothers and sisters before them have not.
With the help of Search for Common Ground, and international non-profit agency focusing on peace communication interventions, youth in areas of ethnic conflict are hooked on serial television programs that promote peace by example, and show kids from all backgrounds the commonalities they share.
In Israel and Palestine, it is "Rechov SumSum," or Sesame Street. Broadcast in both Hebrew and Arabic simultaneously, the two main character puppets interact with each other through intermediary adults, who help translate and affirm to each the mutual identity that is shared between them.
In Macedonia, it is Nashe Maalo, "Our Neighborhood." Targeting a preteen audience, kids from Roma, Turkish, Serbian, Albanian, and Macedonian identities solve the problems of everyday ethnic tensions with the help of a talking TV set in the basement of their apartment building. The show was so popular in its first years that it immediately became a franchise, selling everything from backpacks to music CDs.
The strength of these programs lay in each’s ability to specialize its programming and methods to the specific area and specific conflict. Each shows’ staff consists not only of international education experts, but also a variety of local crewmembers who represent the full diversity of the community of intervention. And it is working. Polls show that youth stereotypes of other ethnic groups have changed even after the first viewing.
Hopefully these changed views will stick, and the next generation will find mediation the first tool to relieving tensions.
If you would like to learn more, visit Search for Common Ground’s website at www.sfcg.org.
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Readers' comments are invited on this topic and report. This topic relates to two reports: Media That Matters; and Youth Television Creates Peace.