Friday, September 26, 2008

Bigger than the Financial Crisis

By Steve Villano

Cable Positive went to Capitol Hill this week to deal with a crisis of monumental proportions with a growing impact in the United States and around the world.

No, not the financial crisis, which brought waves of lobbyists, politicians, and media representatives to Washington all week-long. While public officials and financiers were focused on saving people’s homes, 401 K plans, bank savings and jobs, Cable Positive came to Congress to save people’s lives.

While The Treasury Department and Bush Administration officials lobbied members of Congress hard for a $700 billion bailout for Wall Street, Cable Positive, a few elected officials, AIDS activists, and Cable industry leaders from Motorola, Time Warner Cable, Discovery, CTAM & TV One, gathered to share information and ideas on the crisis wiping out our children and our communities of color in the US and globally—HIV/AIDS.

Sponsored by Cable Positive and Congresswoman Diane E. Watson (D-CA) who heads the Congressional Entertainment Industries Caucus, a conference on “Youth, AIDS & Media: Multi-Platform Advocacy in a New Era of Prevention,” put the spotlight on the crucial role television, the internet and cell phones can have in educating our young people about HIV/AIDS, particularly since 8-18 year olds spend one-third of each day, engaged with some form of media.

“Young people are watching and sharing more content on their computers and mobile devices and actively engaging their peers through them, than ever before,” said Dan Brenner, long-time Cable Positive Board Member and SVP, Law & Regulatory Policy at NCTA, who was the conference’s keynoter. Brenner underscored the enormous pro-bono and financial contributions of the Cable industry in the fight against HIV/AIDS, and singled out Motorola for special recognition of a $200,000 grant from the Motorola Foundation which enabled Cable Positive to create our Youth AIDS Media Institute (YAMI).

The Congressional conference was the first of many that Cable Positive will hold around the country to bring more attention and resources to how the HIV/AIDS crisis is crippling entire communities, and what the entertainment industry is doing about it—particularly the cable telecommunications industry through the work of Cable Positive.

“I think it’s our continued responsibility as part of this entertainment community to continue to fight against HIV/AIDS,” said Congresswoman Watson. The cable industry and Cable Positive couldn’t agree with her more.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Small Steps, Lead to Big Change

by Thomas Henning

The use of new media as a tool to spread awareness messages regarding HIV/AIDS is in its infancy but it is growing fast. On Facebook, there are over 500 AIDS-related groups. Games are being developed to raise HIV/AID awareness. One example is Pos or Not, a game that was designed to engage young people about HIV and who it affects in personal ways. This game, which came about through collaboration with MTVU and The Kaiser Family Foundation, had nearly 200,000 unique visitors play in the first 24 hours of its launch.

At the International AIDS Conference (IAC), Dr. Peter Piot, Executive Director of UNAIDS put it best when he said, “It is time that prevention programs embrace Facebook, texting, all the communication means, the new information technology that young people are using. It is not by billboards that we are going to introduce social change and personal behavior on a large scale.”

I couldn’t agree more with Dr. Piot. I mean, New Media is part of our everyday lives and it would seem in any agency’s best interest to put some time in developing a plan that incorporates media, both new and traditional, in its prevention outreach strategies.

Cable Positive is not only embracing new forms of media as a tool to engage users in the fight against HIV/AIDS, we are also creating new initiatives that encourage individuals and communities to do the same. These new initiatives will not only embrace new forms of media, and take advantage of this new era of media literacy, it will teach people how to use these new forms of media to spread HIV/AIDS awareness.

Here is the thing, when you have resources like some of the national groups do, it is easier to develop these new media strategies. When funding is as much an issue for you as it is a rural ASO/CBO, more opportunities may be available to you. The thing is, even if you don’t have the resources you have the opportunity and I think that is something that a lot of individuals and organizations do not understand.

During the coming week, I will be holding a couple of workshops during NMAC’s United States Conference on AIDS in Fort Lauderdale. I will be discussing how organizations can use media, both traditional and new, to strengthen and diversify their prevention efforts. I will touch on a couple of initiatives that Cable Positive is funding as examples. Together we will work together to come up with an outline that people can take back to their communities to use.

Cable Positive’s new initiative, YAMI, or the Youth AIDS Media Institute, will encourage the use of all the mediums Dr. Piot called attention to at IAC to fully engage youths on their playing field. There needs to be a catalyst for change, using new forms of media could provide that spark.

After the conference, the Cable Positive team will be traveling to Washington, D.C. to discuss YAMI with elected officials. That’s right, on September 24, 2008, Cable Positive will be on Capitol Hill to hold a breakfast panel hosted by Congresswoman Diane E. Watson (CA), who chairs the Entertainment Industries Caucus, titled “Youth, AIDS, and Media: Multi-Platform Advocacy in a New Era of Prevention.”

We’ll discuss the ways young people have, and can have an impact on spreading HIV/AIDS awareness messages using platforms like text messaging, as well as social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace.

With the rollout of YAMI we hope to stand beside organizations around the country and take a step out of infancy and start taking steps forward. You know, maybe they will be small steps at first but, in my opinion, it is the small steps that lead to the biggest change.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Abstaining from the Facts

By Steve Villano

The problem with teaching abstinence from sex to teenagers is that it’s based upon the premise of doing nothing. “Abstinence-only education” is, in fact, the absence of education about sex. Is it any wonder, then, that teenagers who are taught nothing about sex, know very little about it, except to follow the natural instincts of all sexually mature living beings and have it?

And when they have sex, as numerous studies have shown, without being taught to protect themselves from STDs, HIV or pregnancy, teenagers spread STDs, contract HIV, or get pregnant. This is not very complicated stuff. Teach people how to have safer sex and protect themselves by using condoms, and you can reduce the high rate of transmission of infectious diseases among the young, and the rate of teen pregnancy. Teach them nothing about sex and how to protect themselves if they have it, and they’ll be clueless about protection.

During the last decade, the federal government spent $1.5 billion of taxpayer dollars on “abstinence-only education” programs. A Congressionally mandated review found that that money was wasted since students in such know-nothing programs delayed sex no longer and had no fewer partners than anyone else. When they did have sex, which was often, they had little or no information about how to reduce the risk of disease or pregnancy. And, no one has whispered a word to them about the emotional issues they’ll have to deal with.

Abstinence ideologues have misguided government funding on this issue at home and abroad, and while, the new PEPFAR program lifted the ban on teaching sex education in Africa, Asia and other nations with a high rate of HIV infection, know-nothingism is still the rule when “teaching” about sex in communities across the U.S. A recent CDC study found that more than one in four young women between the ages of 14-19 in the US—or some 3.2 million teenage girls—is infected with at least one STD. Among young Black women that rate is doubled. For AIDS cases alone, teenage girls represent 43% of new cases reported in that entire age group.

Sarah Palin’s 17-year old daughter is a lucky young woman, blessed with a family that loves, accepts & supports her, whatever the consequence of her sex without protection. Not all pregnant, unmarried 17-year olds are so fortunate. For many, the absence of education about sex, and the consequences of their impulsive, youthful actions, threaten their health, and drive them into poverty, isolation from their families or suicide.

It’s too steep a price to pay for an ideology at odds with the facts of life.