Johns Hopkins Gazette: April 21, 1997

Can U.S.
Promote Positive

Randolph Fillmore
Contributing Writer
When Indonesian viewers huddle around their TVs to watch Alang-Alang, a popular TV series, they watch as a resilient young girl from the Jakarta slums learns the importance of family and community support, as well as the value of education and the problems associated with having too many babies.

The show is sponsored by the Indonesian National Family Planning Program, a TV station and the Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs. It was directed by one of Indonesia's leading directors, Teguh Karya.

The focus on values and social change is called "Enter-Education": part entertainment and part education. Since 1985, CCP has helped produce and launch more than 100 Enter-Education projects in 65 countries. Now CCP hopes to influence the industry at home.

The Enter-Educate concept of putting positive values into mass media productions is being brought home to the good old USA's shoot 'em up and hop in bed television and movie industry through an Entertainment-Education Conference at Ohio University in early May, co-hosted by the Center for Communication Programs and Ohio University.

Will the conference help open a new socially responsible era in American television? Stay tuned.

"We hope U.S. producers and writers will start following some of their counterparts in developing countries who have successfully used the Enter-Educate concept," says Phyllis Tilson Piotrow, CCP director.

According to Piotrow, Hollywood producers, advertising executives and entertainment-education professionals will be on hand at the Second International Conference on Entertainment-Education and Social Change at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, May 7 to 10, to discuss Enter-Education. While hundreds of communications students and social change professionals will be learning and comparing notes, Piotrow hopes the conference will have an even greater impact on the TV and movie industry professionals.

It may be that some U.S. TV producers already have an interest in social change and have taken some steps to create programming with messages designed to counter-balance the sex-drugs-violence fare served up by most commercial TV. Piotrow points out that after a recent episode of Beverly Hills 90210 a character (played by Ian Ziering) who, during the episode, became a reformed drug user appeared afterward in a public service announcement for the Partnership for a Drug-Free America.

"The fundamental fact is that the entertainment industry wants to make money," says Piotrow, who adds that many actors who appeared in CCP productions in other countries have gone on to successful careers. "We need to show them that they can make a profit through Enter-Education."

One of Piotrow's particular concerns is with what she sees as the U.S. entertainment industry's neglect of public health sexual issues, especially regarding birth control, safe sex and the frequency of sexual encounters. Piotrow is concerned that sexual encounters as depicted on the tube and on the silver screen don't normally include socially responsible public health discussions about the consequences of such activity. According to Piotrow, while the industry seems to have reacted strongly to public health threats posed by smoking and alcohol, they have not responded similarly with regard to sexuality and public health.

"Today in the movies and on television you don't see people drinking and smoking as you once did, so we'd like to see people using contraceptives. For sexually active young people, condoms should be just as much a part of a sexual encounter as taking off your shoes," says Piotrow. "Condoms should be as commonly referred to as designated drivers are. The industry is not going to stop portraying sexual encounters, but portrayals should be accompanied by discussion and suggestions, and there should be more information about STDs, AIDS and having fewer partners. But the main message we would like to see is that everybody doesn't have to jump into bed with everyone else."

Piotrow's counterpart at Ohio University concurs.

"The West has been slow to incorporate socially responsible messages in entertainment programming, and programs such as soap operas could do much more," says Vibert Cambridge, director of communication and development studies at Ohio University. "For example, a recent study showed that only one out of 10 U.S. soap opera episodes that involved characters in sexual situations included discussions about the repercussions of their actions."

Piotrow is also concerned that U.S. programming is not providing role models for young women who want to say no to sexual activity.

"I'd like to see young people standing up and saying no and being more popular among their peers as a result," she adds.

CCP just received a $28 million grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development. The USAID funds are earmarked for continuing CCP's worldwide technical population information program on reproductive health and family planning in developing countries.

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