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Annan Urges Media to Help Combat AIDS

Nearly two dozen media organizations from around the world have joined a new United Nations initiative to help spread information in the fight against AIDS. Participants signed a statement pledging to educate and inform the public about the international health crisis.

In launching the new global media AIDS initiative, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan called on media organizations to use the tools of the information age to help combat widespread misperceptions about AIDS and its transmission, particularly among world youth.

"If there is one thing that we have learned in the past two decades of this epidemic, it is that in the world of AIDS, silence is death," said Mr. Annan. "As broadcasters, you can bring the disease out of the shadows and get people talking about it in an open and informed way."

Throughout a day-long U.N. meeting, worldwide media organizations exchanged ideas about how to tackle the problem.

Media representatives from nations where AIDS is spreading rapidly, including China Central Television, India's Star network and one of Russia's largest media organizations, Gazprom-Media, said they would expand their focus on AIDS. The U.S. media giant, Viacom, announced that it would allocate $200 million to the effort in the second year of its "No HIV-AIDS Campaign."

In their discussion, the media executives said the issue of AIDS should also be treated in dramatic scripts. And to help erase the stigma of AIDS and illustrate startling statistics, some participants also advocated profiling real people living with the disease.

Peter Matlare of the South African Broadcasting Corporation has worked with private foundations to develop scripts for radio and television that promote lifestyle change as a way of preventing people from getting AIDS.

"Writing into our drama scripts or many other of our continuity announcer programs, [we send] clear messages that enable not just awareness," he said. "We keep talking about lifestyle change because lifestyle change is ultimately what is going to lead to prevention rather than just being aware of what the problems are."

Executives with the U.S.-based Black Entertainment Television offered to provide stations in southern Africa with footage of popular African American entertainers and athletes promoting AIDS awareness.

Some participants also proposed creating a multi-media database to create a cost free method for sharing information and video for AIDS programming.

Participating media executives signed a statement resolving to expand public knowledge about AIDS. The global media AIDS summit was sponsored by the United Nations and the private Kaiser Family Foundation.