American Missionary to Lead Christian Communications in Latin America

( [email protected] ) Nov 25, 2003 10:59 AM EST

LOUISVILLE — Dennis Smith, a Presbyterian Church USA missionary to Guatemala for 27 years, was elected president of the World Association for Christian Communicators/Latin America, during its annual conference in San Paulo, Brazil, last week. On behalf of WACC, Smith will present a report on “The Role of the Commercial Media in Making the Poor Invisible,” at a three-day United Nations Summit on the Information Society and the Church, beginning Dec. 10.

Smith, 52, who also serves as the president of the labor rights watch-dog, “Commission for the Verification of Codes of Conduct in Guatemala,” said he hopes to keep media and communication at the forefront of the LACC during his tenure as president.

“Communication rights, the presence and representation of women in media, and reflection on theology, communication and culture are the three areas where we’ll be putting our focus for the next four years,” said Smith.

According to Smith, the media is the principal source of the popular culture; one which affects people especially in their youth.

“Our experience of the commercial media is that — despite producers who are our age, with kids — they get locked into a trap that (media have made) for themselves: Appealing to the lowest common denominator with violence and human sexuality. We’re trying to work with them to be true to what they know is best and more ethically sound.

“We also want to affirm the good stuff that is coming out,” he said, citing the new CBS television series, Joan of Arcadia, as evidence that quality work is still done.

Therefore, said Smith, trying to influence commercial media should always be a focus of the church.

“While we don’t have a monopoly on ethical values as a church,” he said, “if the church is not present there, we’re abandoning one of the most important spaces where values and meaning are created in contemporary culture. And that’s irresponsible.”

Smith’s new regional executive committee includes four others: Luciano Sathler, coordinator of the distance learning program of the Methodist University in Sao Paulo, Brazil; Alma Montoya, president of the “Grupo Communicate,” a project of community radio stations in Colombia’s conflict zones; Daniel Favaro, the director of communications for the Regional Ecumenical Center for Assistance and Services and director of the Methodist journal, The Evangelical Standard; and Claudia Florentin, a journalist who coordinates the communications of the Waldensian Evangelical Church of the River Platte.

Smith began working with the WACCLA in 1978 as an advisor on communications for the Presbyterian Church of Guatemala. In 1999, he was elected to the association’s regional executive committee in 1999.

WACC was founded in the 1950s when Christian communicators in Europe and North America were seeking guidelines for religious broadcasting. The organization encourages cooperation among Protestant, Orthodox and Roman Catholic communicators, as well as between people of other faiths and beliefs.