How the Bahá’í community uses media to improve human wellbeing
The Bahá’í community is very dispersed, reaching out to around five million people in 100,000 places globally. So how it communicates with its members is critical in building a sense of community.
Needs-based: A Bahá'í experimental agricultural plot at the University Center for Rural Well-Being in Jamundi-Robles, Colombia. Spreading news of projects such as this is one of the main purposes for the Bahá'ís' extensive network of media outlets Picture: Bahá'í Media Bank
Bahá’ís are sophisticated users of all tools of communication, from newsletters, publications and websites to radio stations and even film.
But disseminating information to their own community is not the only – or even the main – reason why Bahá’ís use different forms of media, both internally and externally. Their overarching goal is to advance human progress, and they believe the media is a critical part of this process.
'The starting framing for all the activities of the Bahá’í community is based on an orientation of service,' explains Daniel Perell, the Bahá’í International Community's representative to the United Nations. 'In this regard, the media is another way of advancing the development efforts of our community.'
Bahá’ís use the media to help inspire and raise consciousness about principles that contribute to societal harmony' and to stimulate thoughtful discussion on issues facing humanity', says Daniel.
These quotes from the writings of Abdu'l-Bahá, the eldest son of Baháʼu'lláh, who established the Bahá'í faith in the 19th century, show how important Bahá’ís consider this to be:
'It is urgent that beneficial articles and books be written clearly and definitely establishing what the present day requirements of the people are and what will conduce to the happiness and advancement of society ... The publication of high thoughts is the dynamic power in the arteries of life; it is the very soul of the world.”
Starting with the needs of communities
The communications tools that individual Bahá’í communities use generally arise from the needs of the communities themselves.
For example, Bahá’ís are well known for setting up radio stations. Daniel says these are not established to promote or spread the Bahá’í faith or its activities, but rather as tools to allow local communities – both Bahá’í and non- Bahá’í – to more easily communicate with one another.
‘It's by communities for communities. It's really locally driven out of a sense of service' – Daniel Perell
This is an example of the service orientation , he says: 'It's by communities for communities. It's really locally driven out of a sense of service and when it works in one place, it may be replicated in another but only as far as it serves the local community.' Radio stations have been set up in locations from the US to Peru, Chile, Bolivia, the Philippines, and internet stations such as a service in Farsi.
The tools used by Bahá’ís to share information among themselves include the Bahá’í World News Service website. This provides the latest news and information about the Bahá’í community, such as the construction of new houses of worship and the passing of significant figures.
More in-depth analysis is provided by the Bahá’í World publication, also available online, which features longer essays and articles. And then there are the letters and guidance provided to the faithful by Bahá’í leaders.
One question people often ask is how do Bahá’ís know what to prioritise in their activities, especially as the Bahá’í faith has no clergy, says Daniel. 'The Bahá’í community is perhaps the most loyal readership you could imagine when it comes to receiving messages from the Universal House of Justice, our worldwide governing body, and the messages conveyed every 19 days from our national and local spiritual assemblies,' he says.
Bahá’ís gather every 19 days to read these letters and discuss how these reflections and guidance apply to their locality. 'here's a cyclical nature of information gathering, comprehension, analysis, learning, reflection and publication, and this helps the community to understand in what direction to go,' says Daniel.
Recently, Bahá’ís have increased their use of film, both feature-film length and three-minute film versions of written stories. These convey essentially the same information as the written stories, says Daniel, 'but using pictures rather than just words, which is very effective and allows us to show, not just tell'.
Externally, one important aspect of Bahá’ís media engagement is in defence of the Bahá’í community, both to correct misinformation and to ensure that the way Bahá’ís are represented is consistent with what the community wants people to see and understand about them.
'There is a limited audience for publicising our own activities,' explains Daniel, 'but by telling the stories of others, we help shape the media to be about service.'