By Linda Bordoni
At least 300 million Arabic-speakers in the Middle East and North Africa – including millions of mostly Syrian refugees in camps - have access to satellite TV.
Thanks to SAT-7, 95 percent of the region’s population can turn on their television and find the very thing most needed in their troubled region: hope.
With programming that ranges from teaching programmes to documentaries and films, and from church services to live discussion shows, SAT-7 continues to grow addressing social issues from a Christian perspective and keeping refugees informed.
Linda Bordoni spoke to SAT-7’s new CEO, Rita Elmounayer about the satellite TV station and its mission to speak to all the people in the region, regardless of their religious tradition.
Reflecting on this time of instability, fear and grief, Elmounayer pointed out that people are even more hungry for authenticity and truth.
Speaking with passion and motivation of her new role and responsibility she pointed out that there has never been a more important time to be a Christian broadcaster and digital media provider in the Middle East.
Christian satellite TV broadcasting to all religious traditions
Elmounayer explains that SAT-7 is a Christian satellite TV station for the people in the Middle East, by the people in the Middle East broadcasting through 5 channels: 3 in Arabic, 1in Turkish and 1 Farsi
The first woman to head the station, she says she has been part of the team for 21 years, starting out as a producer and then becoming a manager for children’s programming before launching station’s successful programme for kids. Two years ago she was named head of the channels and now she is taking over from the founder, Dr Terry Ascot, who is retiring.
A woman at the helm
“It was overwhelming for me, but I think it is also a blessing because I am Middle Eastern and I am a woman” she said pointing out that she is very different from Dr Ascot and thinks she can bring some change.
Upon learning of her nomination Elmounayer said: “The first thing I did is I prayed and I asked the Lord for the wisdom to make the right decisions”.
Middle Eastern diversity: challenge and gift
She speaks of the great religious and cultural diversity in the Middle East as a great challenge and a gift and explains that her visit to Rome is an occasion to be in touch with organizations that have provided support and partnership to SAT-7.
“Our uniqueness at SAT-7, Elmounayer said, is that we work with all Church traditions in the Middle East: Maronite, Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant” and they are all represented on the station’s council as well. “Sometimes she asks herself: how can you please everyone?”
But our focus she says, is “on what unites us rather than what tears us apart because in this time of history with what is happening with religious extremism and all the misery it causes, the people do not want to see this, they want a message of hope”.
Elmounayer confirms that the latest statistics show that SAT-7 has at least 21 million known viewers; she actually believes this is a modest number.
Giving refugee children a second chance in life through education
She says that an important part of the satellite TV’s mission is to bring information, news, education and entertainment to people in refugee camps.
“When the crisis in Syria started we wanted to do something for the refugees” she said.
And pointing out that as media “we can offer them a second chance in life through education”, Elmounayer explains that the successful “My school on Air” programme takes the curriculum from Syria starting from grade one through to grade 4 which is ongoing now, and provides classes in English, French, Maths, Science and Arabic.
Other programmes help refugees stay connected to their home country and she explains that satellite TV has a unique capacity to do this as it is uncensored.
She says parents are grateful for it because apart from offering education, it keeps children safe as it keeps them off the streets when it is too hot, too cold, or simply too dangerous to be outside.
Elmounayer says that “My School on Air” was so successful in September 2017 SAT-7 launched a purely educational channel called SAT-7 Academy with additional programmes for families and for teachers.
Presenting Christian values to all the people of the Middle East
She takes pains to highlight that the programmes are purely educational – that they do not proselytize – but she says: “we present beautiful Christian values” aiming to create a culture of encounter and acceptance.
“This is very important to us” as the station continues to be true to its original mission both to strengthen the Church in the Middle East but also to explain our faith to non-Christians.