Putting a Lot of Heart into Development in Mexico

May 23, 2012 6:05 PM ET

Media Impact: In the News

“Watch out Televisa and Azteca.” That’s what famed writer Álvaro Cueva had to say about a new television drama, Mucho Corazón/A Lot of Heart, in his February 2nd column. Why should the two Mexican media giants watch out? Because a handful of dedicated public media professionals and virtually volunteer actors have taken the everyday challenges faced by residents of Chiapas, Mexico and a shoestring budget, and turned them into a program so powerfully dramatic it rivals the multi-million dollar productions of the conglomerates.

Mucho Corazón is a 35-episode Entertainment-Education telenovela penned by Georgina Tinoco and Alberto Aridjis, both of whom have a long history of successful telenovela scriptwriting. Entertainment-Education is the incorporation of critical information into engaging storylines to simultaneously amuse and educate audiences. The drama tells the story of Maruch, a young indigenous woman from a rural community in Chiapas. Maruch suffers from harassment, corruption, racial and gender discrimination and a lack of opportunities because of her social class. In the absence of her mother, Maruch supports her alcoholic father and tries to help him overcome the disease. Determined to see her father get better and improve her own life, Maruch takes advantage of government programs for women and empowers other women in her community to start their own tomato farm. Everything seems to be going well until Don Justo, the town’s leader, forces Maruch’s father to give him his daughter’s hand in marriage, even when Maruch loves another: Justo’s son. I’d like to share the ending, but don’t want to spoil it should any faithful viewers read this column.

You may be wondering why I’m discussing a drama about women’s rights in an environmental magazine. It’s because we cannot expect to make change on the environmental front – be our issue sustainable agriculture, population or resource management – if the needs of 50 percent of the population are not met. The beauty of Entertainment-Education is that it allows us to touch on several issues at once; just take one look at the story above and you will see what I mean. The methodology is rich. And its depth makes it the perfect tool to use when promoting sustainable development, which is precisely what it is designed to do.

Mucho Corazón launched in mid-January at a live event attended by many local notables, including the State’s First Lady, Mrs. Isabel Aguilera de Sabines, who championed the drama from concept to reality. The Mexican State of Chiapas is the first in the world to base its constitution on the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to accelerate development in communities housed there, and has been recognized by both the United Nations and UNICEF for this innovative approach to governance. The government has also created many services to ensure women are able to exercise their new rights – including access to education and health services, and the right to own land.

The program partners, an extensive list of government ministries, broadcasters and PCI-Media Impact (Media Impact), are using Media Impact’s My Community approach to Entertainment-Education to spread the word about the MDGs and the importance of sustainable development, gender equity and respect for Indigenous Peoples. A cornerstone of the program is to build a network between State ministries to use the power of law and communications to showcase the natural resources and human diversity of Chiapas, enhance knowledge sharing, engage the public and support community-based adaption activities across the state. The drama’s authors have successfully woven information about the MDGs and the new government services into an entertaining and – to be honest – downright addictive show.

Official broadcasts began on January 24th and one new 30-minute episode will air weekly on Canal 10, run by the Chiapas Radio, Television and Cinematography System, until the program’s conclusion. Two additional agreements have been signed to expand the program’s reach. Televisión de América Latina (TAL) will make the drama available to its network of 23 stations throughout Latin America, and Mexicanal will broadcast the drama to Mexican immigrants in the United States starting this month.

But the program doesn’t stop at the broadcast. The My Community methodology focuses on building capacity of local partners to produce dramas with the goal of using them as a tool to generate debate and action. To that end, after each episode of the drama, producers and special guests meet on “Hablamos de Mucho Corazón/Let’s Talk about Mucho Corazón” to discuss the show and its content with listeners. The television drama is also complemented by ongoing promotion through the State of Chiapas radio and television networks, and community action campaigns to encourage viewers to adopt the behaviors modeled in the drama.

Mucho Corazón is the second Entertainment-Education drama produced by the State Government of Chiapas in the past year. The partners previously collaborated to produce and broadcast Corazón de Mujer/The Heart of a Woman, which launched on the International Day of Women, March 8th, in 2011. The radio drama was wildly popular and, though it was originally scheduled to broadcast only on the State Government’s radio station, has since been rebroadcasted on more than 50 stations in three countries.

The show’s popularity is heartening not only because of what is says about the ability of state-run radio and television stations to “play with the big boys”, but also because Entertainment-Education on behalf of women works. An example of this is the Indian radio drama Taru, produced by Media Impact in 2002. According to a 2010 evaluation, Taru reached an audience of between 20 and 25 million in its four target states (Bihar, Jharkhand, Mahdya Pradesh and Chattisgarh), but its popularity led to re-broadcasts throughout North India, and an estimated total audience of 60-75 million. Survey research discovered significantly stronger beliefs about gender equity and family planning after the series aired: The use of modern family planning methods increased and the research also found a 10 percent shift towards using family planning methods after having two children, compared to after three or four children prior to the broadcasts.

Similar impact is expected from both Corazón de Mujer and Mucho Corazón. Initial survey data shows more than 80 percent of radio drama listeners report having learned about a woman’s right to not be abused from the show. It’s a good start, yet there’s much that remains to be done.

That’s why we, at Media Impact, are honored to help with the production of Mucho Corazón. The world could stand to see more strong TV heroines who use their own resources to save themselves. It is our experience, after all, that what we see on TV quickly becomes reality.

*This article was originally published in the March 2012 edition of Expressions Magazine.