Out of the Darkness of Centuries: Book Review


You really can change outlook and behavior by scientifically based entertainment-education through the media, primarily radio and television.  That is the premise of David O. Poindexter’s book Out of the Darkness of Centuries, a PMC (Population Media Center) book by the founder of Population Communication International and now emeritus member of the Board for PMC.

 

With a lifelong dedication to issues of population, family planning, and reproductive health, Poindexter traces his pioneering work in the field back to his meeting with Miguel Sabido of Mexico in 1977. Poindexter credits Sabido’s methodology and media savvy with the groundbreaking results in behavior change elicited by radio and television multi-episode dramas where the target audiences hang on every word, never miss a program, and fully identify with the situations faced by the characters depicted by the cream of creative writers. Different stories are serialized to fit their geographical location.

 

Every story is based on issues and values. For instance the issue might be that frequent births are a cause of infant and maternal mortality. The positive value would be: “It is good that couples space their children 2 ½ years apart.”  The negative value would be: “It is bad that couples space their children less than 2 ½ years apart.”  And a radio or television multi-episode drama would build itself round this issue and these values. Accountability plays a huge role. New attitudes and behaviors are carefully measured. And results are in a word astounding.

 

I was particularly interested in this book because it traces the long involvement of the United Nations Population Fund with radio dramas imparting reproductive health values.

 

In the early years there were fights over language. The word condom was proscribed as well as “protection”. “Responsible parenthood” became an acceptable euphemism for family planning. We still fight these battles today.

 

In August 1972, the United Nations held its first Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm, Sweden. Population was not on the agenda. Poindexter arranged a separate lecture series on environmental AND population concerns. One of these lectures was by Club of Rome founder, the Italian Aurelio Pecci. The final Stockholm book on the conference contained these lectures. I have given two Aurelio Pecci lectures at the Club of Rome in Brussels where I spoke about 34 Million Friends of UNFPA and of the links of gender equality to all long term human and planetary issues.

 

Some environmentalists today still hesitate to embrace the population connection. I found it very positive that UNFPA’s 2009 State of World Population is entitled “Facing a Changing World: Women, Population, and Climate”.

 

There is much to like in this book and it is fascinating history. I loved his admonition to “go to the top” to get things done. The present Population Media Center (www.populationmedia.org , under the direction of its leader Bill Ryerson, is engaged in producing high quality radio and T.V. serial dramas for UNFPA and others in several countries around the world. These productions all have a values framework embracing United Nations human rights documents. Pages 308-9 of the book recount the three serial dramas produced for Mali dealing with family planning, HIV-AIDS, and FGM. Having visited Mali as a guest of UNFPA, I was fascinated by these stories.

 

If you would like to belong to Ryerson’s email list to which he sends high quality information on population and environmental links, email him at ryerson@populationmedia.org.

 

 

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