by William Ryerson

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There is strong evidence that mass media, particularly entertainment broadcast media, have played a significant role in a number of countries in bringing about changes in reproductive behavior and in promoting adoption of other health measures. Radio and television soap operas in Brazil, Ethiopia, India, Kenya, Mexico, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, St. Lucia, and Tanzania have been documented by independent research in their massive effects on audience attitudes and behavior with regard to HIV/AIDS avoidance and use of family planning (1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6). One of the advantages of using serial dramas, as opposed to documentaries or single-episode dramas, is that they allow time for the audience to form bonds with the characters and allow characters to evolve in their thinking and behavior with regard to various issues at a gradual and believable pace in response to problems that have been well illustrated in the story line. Just as important, entertainment programs forge emotional ties to audience members that influence values and behaviors more forcefully than the purely cognitive information provided in documentaries. In addition, the emotional context of a melodrama improves retention of lessons learned by the audience, in much the same way that we remember the details of where we were on September 11, 2001 much more clearly than on an ordinary day. As described in the social learning theory of Stanford University psychologist Albert Bandura, vicarious learning from others is a powerful teacher of attitudes and behavior (7). Next to peer and parental role models, role models from the mass media are of particular importance in shaping cultural attitudes and behavior. Serial melodramas using the methodology developed by Miguel Sabido of Mexico for promoting reproductive health (8) have been remarkable in that they have attracted no serious opposition in any country. This stems, in part, from the thorough research that has been done prior to the development of the programs to measure audience attitudes and norms with regard to these issues. Characters for the serial dramas can then be developed that reflect the audience, so that the show is in harmony with the culture. Through the gradual evolution of characters in response to problems that many in the audience also are facing, soap operas can show adoption of new, non-traditional behaviors in a way that generates no negative response from the audience. Because of the bonds that are formed between audience members and characters, and because of the commonality of problems between characters and the audience, audience members tend to accept these changes, even though they may challenge some cultural traditions. Because they deal with issues that are as sensitive as sexual relationships and reproduction, it is especially important that such programs are designed not to build opposition or cause a backlash. Mexico In 1975, Miguel Sabido, then Vice-President of the big commercial Mexican network, Televisa, created the first social-content telenovela (television novel), which included a sub-plot that dealt with the issue of literacy. Telenovelas are similar to American soap operas in that they use
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