(Vatican Radio) With 21 million viewers, 30,000 downloads on YouTube and millions of Facebook followers each week, SAT-7 Christian satellite TV is preparing to launch yet another project: it’s called SAT-7 Academy and it aims to respond to the urgent needs of refugees and internally displaced persons in the Middle East and North Africa.
Propelled by the newly founded SAT-7 Education & Development entity, this educational channel has been conceived to address the physical, emotional, relational, and intellectual aspects of the region’s children, parents and teachers, and provide a much needed tool to tackle the education gap in the Middle East, especially in war-torn Syria.
Passing through Rome for talks with partners inside and outside the Vatican, Kurt Johansen, the Executive Director of SAT-7 in Europe and in Asia, told Linda Bordoni that in over 20 years of service, SAT-7 has become a vital lifeline for millions as it provides information, entertainment and culture to displaced people and Christian minorities in difficult situations.
Listen to the interview:
Kurt Johansen explains that SAT-7 is a Christian TV station in the Middle East that broadcasts on four channels, 24 hours a day, on satellite.
“Satellite TV is ‘the’ media of the Middle East, more than 300 million have access to it – so this is actually the first time in world history that we can go into 300 million homes with the Christian message!” he says.
Johansen says all the programmes are produced in the Middle East, and the station has been able to unite all the Churches – Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant - in19 different countries with studio’s throughout the region, showcasing the unity and the diversity of the Christianity.
Whilst covering a wide spectrum of issues, he explains that at the heart of SAT-7’s mission is the wish to be the voice of the Christians of the Middle East, and also show what it means to be a Christian – and especially a minority Christian, giving them an identity and a legitimacy in a very difficult situation.
Pope Francis: a beloved figure
Johansen says that Pope Francis is often a protagonist of SAT-7’s programmes; referring in particular to the Pope’s recent apostolic journey to Egypt, he says that the TV station covered that journey 24 hours a day live.
“He’s very popular in the Middle East, and his message of peace and inclusion is very needed and important” he says.
Building bridges with non-Christians
Johansen also points out that according to independent surveys, most of SAT-7’s viewers are non-Christians: “they have the chance to see what these Christians are talking about, who they are – most people in the Middle East will never meet a Christian, they will never see a Bible” so satellite TV is a means to allow them to get informed.
He says it is important also because there are many misunderstandings regarding Christians, and it is a way of showing the people that Christians have been in the area for more than 2.000 years and still have a lot to contribute to the society.
“We are bringing the Church out onto the market place, showing how the Church does social work, how it is involved in human rights, politics and so on” he says.
Johansen speaks of the interest the TV programmes continue to arouse also amongst the huge Muslim viewership of SAT-7.
“I think we are building bridges to the non-Christians opening their eyes as to what Christianity is” he said.
Educational programmes for children in refugee camps
One of SAT-7’s main missions is to be involved in education, that’s why for the past ten years the station has been broadcasting educational programmes 10 hours per day so that children – in refugee camps or in areas where schooling is poor or inaccessible – can learn to read and write, can learn mathematics, science and also “living skills”.
“There are millions of kids who are not in school, and have not been in school for years, and will probably not be in school in the coming years as well – it’s a lost generation” he says.
Johansen says this is true in Syria, but also in Turkey, in Jordan, in Lebanon where millions of children have nothing but satellite TV in their tents.
He says the station is currently working to set up the SAT-7 Academy 24/hour educational channel that should be launched on September 1st. It will be broadcast in Arabic to 20 countries and is especially targeted towards Syrian refugees but has also garnered much interest in countries such as Egypt where the education system is struggling.
Johansen says the programmes are directed at children in kinder-garden and in grade one and grade two with the main academic subjects, but also gives space to cultural activities and civil education.
“Because we have the best teachers in our studios, because we can add cartoons and songs and make it very attractive and very unlike the average school situations in the Middle East, we feel we can teach millions of children, give them hope and make them feel they are loved by someone” he says.
Johansen reveals he travels to Rome once a year as he is in contact with various partners and collaborators such as Propaganda Fide, TV 2000, the bishops’ conference and other congregations in the Vatican as well as with Catholic churches and organizations throughout the Middle East.
He says local governments and NGOs are happy to collaborate with the TV station with whom they have built up a “win-win” relationship. He speaks in particular of the situation in Turkey where SAT-7 continues to have permission to broadcast on the official Turk Sat satellite systems and reach a Christian minority which finds itself in serious difficulty.
Johansen says there are many difficulties in working in the Middle East but, he says “we must not allow ourselves to give up, we still have the duty and the possibility to bring love and hope and the witness of Christ to the region”.
“The message of forgiveness and inclusion, he concludes, is very important; and without this message I can’t see an end to this circle of violence, attacks and hate that we are seeing at this time”.