Wednesday, March 28, 2007

MTV in the House

(Dateline: Johannesburg. Posting from the World Summit on Media for Children)

Having traveled the world as the Head of MTV International Programming at the birth of the global network, it was really a delight for me to see two representatives from MTV channels front and center in the AIDS/HIV panels.

Mauro Dahmer (left) is a producer with MTV Brasil who specializes in pro-social issues. We work in a developing country where young people don’t always have the right education nor even a guarantee of basic rights. Drugs, homophobia, machismo, poverty are key issues in fighting AIDS and getting results in Brasil. We have a strong connection to young people and understand our responsibility around these messages.

According to Dahmer, MTV Brasil is the most pro-social MTV, launching more issue spots and campaigns than any other territory. Their on-air commitment is impressive: 20-minutes per day on AIDS prevention programming from December through March, and 10-minutes per day the rest of the year - a huge amount of programming real estate from which to deliver these messages. In addition, all the PSAs plus their documentary “Sex-Press Yourself” (produced in Kingston, Jamaica, Mexico City, and Rio de Janeiro) are available for download online and available for free broadcast anywhere in the world. STAYING ALIVE

Dahmer added that Brasil is a liberal, sexual country. We try to approach these messages by talking about rights and the social aspects of prevention. The key is not to scare our audience, and preserve their right to a free sexuality, not a paranoia sexuality.

Presenter Sizwe Dhlomo (left) from MTV-Base (the African component of MTV’s global network) was also present, and was a huge draw for the teenagers present.
Dhlomo showed excerpts from the MTV campaign “Staying Alice,” an AIDS prevention campaign that is currently running on 50 MTV channels across the world – at least one primetime minute on every channel, every day. Dhlomo called on other broadcasters to join MTV. There is no vaccine available for AIDS; the only vaccine currently available is knowledge.

MTV’s approach to AIDS prevention came under some fire during the day, as people questioned how genuine their effort is, given the highly sexualized tone of their general programming mix. They were also questioned as to why their PSAs were so slick and fast-moving, rather than letting individual teens tell their stories in a more measured way.

I have always felt that MTV speaks to young people in a tone of voice that is unlike any other – and for that reason it is a powerful platform from which to do good. They are not a “public broadcaster,” nor a public service organization, and shouldn’t be expected to speak in a measured tone. While the forum may be imperfect, when MTV speaks to issues relevant to youth, they have a powerful impact.

As Dahmer put it, If we were to stop playing the videos that people say are “irresponsible,” the programming would be less interesting and you would go to other channels. We want to keep the audience and deliver a mix of socially responsible programming. It is all about finding a balance.

When I look back at my time at MTV (1981-1990), I have always been proudest of our work internationally. In the late 1980s the broadcast universe outside of the U.S. was still dominated by huge public broadcasters (BBC, RAI, etc) and I believed that we were the instigators of a seminal cultural revolution, in which the voices of youth were recognized and respected for the first time. I was so proud this week, seeing these two men “own” MTV’s point of view in such a powerful way. Twenty-five years later, our fledging group of MTV start-ups has turned into a legitimate global voice for youth.

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