Interview: MTV International

You’re in: AIDS at 25 Coverage / 25 Years Later: The Media

MTV joined the fight against HIV/AIDS in 1998 when it launched Staying Alive, an international campaign designed to increase awareness, fight discrimination and to encourage safe lifestyle choices. The network, which reaches an average of 63% of the world’s TV households every year, has since distributed over 150 rights-free international public service announcements and airs at least one minute of HIV-related programming on each of its channels every day. Seed spoke with MTV International’s Vice President of Public Affairs, Georgia Arnold, about how MTV’s campaign is changing to parallel the evolution of the epidemic.

What was the impetus for MTV’s Staying Alive campaign?
MTV is 25 years old on August 1, so historically, we’re closely tied with HIV. For us, it was pretty simple: Over 50% of all new infections are among young people between the ages of 15 and 24—that’s our worldwide demographic. So it made absolute sense for us to get involved.

What campaigns do you have coming up?
We’ve just finished production of our “25 Years” campaign, which pulls together all the spots that MTV has made over the past 25 years about HIV/AIDS.

We’re also gearing up for the International Aids Conference in Toronto in August. We’ll be working with young people and talking about our involvement in the Global Media AIDS Initiative. The GMAI was set up by Kofi Annan a couple of years ago to encourage the media to do things like commit airtime on a regular basis for HIV and AIDS messaging.

How are you working to present the issue in new ways?
We’ve now got 150 spots that we have been able to rebrand and reuse because, with HIV, there are only a certain number of things you need to say over and over again. You just need to be creative in the way you say them and use talent where it’s relevant.

We also have to be culturally appropriate. In many countries in the developing world, if there’s one TV per household, or one TV per village, it is going to be the elders or the parents who are responsible for what young people watch. You need to make sure that everyone is comfortable with what is being shown. At the same time, we’re pushing boundaries where we feel it’s appropriate.

Also, we decide how to be more specific by region. For example, in Russia, we focus more on using clean needles than in India, where we’re focusing on empowering young girls. I would say that the theme of young girls is really important across the board. There’s been this increasing feminization of the epidemic: You are more likely to become HIV-positive if you are a woman for both biological and sociological reasons. So it’s crucial that we target our messaging both to our audience of young girls and also to boys, to make sure that they respect women and the choices they make.

What do you see as the private sector’s role in combating HIV/AIDS?
We’ve been involved in the Global Business Coalition on HIV and AIDS, which is about encouraging businesses to get involved. And it’s not necessarily about raising money—it’s about using strengths. At MTV we use our creativity, our reach to young people and our access to talent. If a business is using its strengths, it’s getting involved in the right way in the long term.

What’s the future of HIV/AIDS awareness campaigns?
Last year we launched the Staying Alive Foundation to counter balance our Staying Alive campaign. On air it’s about reaching millions with HIV messaging, but the Foundation is about those inspiring individuals who are doing incredible work in peer education. If we can get their messages out there, we can inspire 100 other kids to do what that one young person is doing. I think we’ll be seeing our “on the ground” work increase to reflect that.

Interview by Melinda Wenner.

Originally published August 13, 2006


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