Thursday, December 30, 2010

TV Will Save the World

Forget Twitter and Facebook, Google and Kindle. Even forget the latest sleek iGadget. Television is still the most influential medium around. Indeed, for many of the poorest regions of the world, it remains the next big thing...poised, finally to attain truly global ubiquity. And that is good thing, because the TV revolution is changing lives for the better.

Across the developing world, around 45% of households had a TV in 1995; by 2005 the number had climbed above 60%. That's some way behind Australia and the U.S.. Five million more households in sub-Saharan Africa will get a TV over the next five years. In 2005, after the fall of the Taliban, which stupidly outlawed TV, 1 in 5 Afghans had one. The global total is another 150 million by 2013--pushing numbers to well beyond two-thirds of households.

Television's most transformative impact will be on the lives of women. Cloistered in Muslim countries with severe restrictions on clothing, shopping, credibility in law courts and respect in the home and limited in determining their destiny. Now TV viewing is opening their eyes to how their sisters in other countries live. Oprah Winfrey has a helped women every where gain a measure of self-respect and assurance in their inborn abilities beyond having babies, cooking and being a sex-toy for an arrogant husband. They will be a rising force for gender equality in the next 10 years, a force that will push Muslim men into the 21st Century.

In India, researchers found that when cable TV reached villages, women were more likely to go to the market without their husband's permission and less likely to want a boy rather than a girl. They were more likely to make decisions over child health care and less likely to think men had the right to beat their wives. TV is also a powerful medium for adult education. In the Indian state of Gujarat, a hugely popular show that plays Bollywood song and dance clips, the routines are subtitled in Gurjarati. Within 6 months, viewers had made a small but significant improvement in their reading skills.

The Way I See the West, too much TV has been associated with violence, obesity and social isolation. But TV is having a positive (some call it civilizing) impact on the lives of billions worldwide. As the spread of mobile TV, video cameras and YouTube democratize both access and content,it will become an even greater force for humbling tyrannical governments and tyrannical husbands as well. That can't come soon enough!

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