Foreign-language news is no news

Foreign-language news is no news

It’s really just four flat-screen TVs, stacked in a two-by-two square, not impressive in their size. In fact, if you make over $50,000 a year or are under the age of 24, you probably have a bigger TV in your living room. What is impressive, though, is the breadth of the channels they receive.

The screen in the upper left flashes images from Al Jazeera—a shot of the Dubai Palm Island segues into the semi-famous image of Saddam Hussein firing a rifle one-handed from a balcony. Below it, ESPN Deportes shows a tennis match on red clay. Like the other three screens, it is silent, though it wouldn’t really matter, since nobody is allowed to make noise at a tennis match anyway.

The Media Wall beckons students with more than 100 channels and 24 languages, yet few heed its calls.

The TVs are in the lobby of Alderman Library, just across from the coffee shop’s whirls and clanks of espresso machines. With access to more than 100 channels with 24 available languages, the televisions are what UVA refers to as its “Media Wall,” a bank of screens forever broadcasting foreign-language news and entertainment channels. To watch any one of them, all you need to do is check out a set of wireless headphones and a remote control.

Today, just a little before 5pm, the four screens blink incessantly, but little to no attention is paid to them. Students sit not 20′ from the TVs, heads buried in books or laptops, cords from iPod earbuds dangling. If the Media Wall is meant to “bring the outside world onto Grounds” as Leigh Grossman, vice president of international affairs, said in a press release, then the outside world is no match for the many interior worlds of these particular students.

Maybe it’s just a bad time. An older man at the circulation desk says soccer matches and Indian movies are the biggest draws. A quick flip through the channels finds that neither are on.

There is a student on a cell phone speaking in Chinese, obviously tired from her day but happy to talk. Across from her, a woman in a green sweater is going over a handout and notes with a man, discussing a position on gay marriage. Not one of the 30 or so students sitting in the lobby is wearing the headphones. No one could care less about serious-minded people discussing a very important issue on screen No. 3 or the exceedingly beautiful anchor giving a report on Lalu’s Rail Budget in New Delhi.

Jennifer Cheng, an economics major working at the Alderman desk, says during her three- and four-hour shifts, maybe one or two people check out headphones. “A lot of people express interest, though,” she says.

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