Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Protection For All

I am a great believer in protection.

I believe in the protection of the people you love, as much as is humanly possible from meanness, pain, and the randomness of life. I believe in the protection of co-workers, colleagues and staff from injustice and abuse of any kind. I believe in the protection of the civil and human rights of all people, regardless of race, age, sex, faith, ethnicity or sexuality.

And I believe strongly in the very practical protection provided by condoms for a healthy sex life, free of worry over HIV, STDs, or unwanted pregnancies. It’s the reason why I am passionate about Cable Positive’s PSAs always communicating messages about HIV/AIDS awareness, education and prevention it’s the reason why I applauded Trojan’s bold public advertising campaign promoting condom usage as a sign of being an “evolved” human being. Condoms save lives, are a more realistic reflection of human behavior than abstinence, and have effectively reduced the rate of HIV infection in countries where there is full government and community support—and a lack of stigma—for their usage.

In my enthusiasm to support Trojan’s bold, socially responsible marketing of condom usage—a move toward getting Americans to think and act more maturely, sanely and safely about sex—I was particularly concerned that the parent companies of two of Cable Positive’s biggest supporters—Fox and CBS—whose cable holdings have donated millions of dollars of cash and pro-bono airtime to our fight against HIV/AIDS— were reported to have refused to air the condom ads. ( I later learned from Trojan, that several Viacom and Fox Cable networks did run the ads, including BET, Comedy Central, FX, MTV, Spike and VH1—all cable networks; none broadcast.)

In that context, I was particularly sensitive to the mention of any of Cable Positive’s long-time cable supporters in a negative light in the continuing condom story.

Two major Cable systems, Cox and Comcast—who have been huge supporters of Cable Positive’s work in the area of HIV/AIDS awareness, education and prevention, nationally, and in local communities across the country—were mentioned in a New York Times story as having rejected the Trojan ads. My mistake was relying upon the Times story as fact, rather than checking with Cable Positive’s friends at each of those Cable systems to verify the report.

As the good folks at Cox Communications in Atlanta pointed out to me, the Cox TV station referred to in Pittsburgh that refused to run the ad, was a Cox broadcast affiliate, not a cable station. In an age of increasing cross-ownership of cable and broadcast properties, the average consumer could be understandably confused, between which station is broadcast and which cable. That’s unfortunate, because cable—as evidenced by the $18 million and billion dollars of airtime donated to Cable Positive—far out-distances broadcast, satellite and telephone companies in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

Comcast’s circumstances were a bit more complex. In two of the Trojan test markets of Pittsburgh and Seattle, the cable system would not allow the condom company to purchase local ads for “Adult Swim”, but did agree to permit “Adult Swim” to purchase national advertising, as well as several other networks.

So, “protection” was not only my concern. Cox and Comcast were appropriately concerned with protecting their good brand names, the local autonomy of their affiliates, and their solid reputations as strong supporters of Cable Positive’s work in the areas of HIV/AIDS awareness, education and prevention.

In my determination to advance the cause of sexual health “protection”, I should have exercised more care in protecting the reputations of two important sources of safer-sex information for millions of people across the country. It just underlines how much more work we all have to do in fighting HIV/AIDS.

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