Thursday, January 22, 2009

Cable Positive: A Model Program for the Public Good

By Steve Villano

If President Obama is looking for an effective example of how corporations or private industry should behave in this brand new era of social responsibility, he needs to use his Blackberry and click on Cable Positive’s website. For the past 17 years, Cable Positive has been practicing the kind of civic virtue that the new President is preaching.

Since its creation in 1992 by three cable industry activists, Cable Positive has recognized what President Obama called in his Inaugural Address, “the price and promise of citizenship.” Cable’s leaders and the entire industry were never required by law to use our vast resources for public service and the public good—we did it because it was the right thing to do.

In the poetry of his Inaugural speech, President Obama paraphrased the great religious philosopher Teihard de Chardin—whom Mario Cuomo frequently quoted—that the spirit of service was personified by a “willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves.” That’s precisely the self-less spirit that launched Cable Positive when friends, family members and colleagues of cable industry employees were, in large numbers, dying of AIDS, in the days before the discovery of anti-retroviral drugs.

Industry activists like Jeff Bernstein & Lifetime’s Meredith Wagner, and leaders such as Showtime’s Matt Blank, Reed’s Bill McGorry, Rainbow Media’s Josh Sapan, & Time Warner’s Jeff Bewkes felt compelled by compassion and common sense to use the vast creative and communications power of the cable television industry to spread messages of HIV/AIDS awareness, education and prevention—to help save the lives of people they loved, and with whom they worked. There was no gain in it for them or their companies. They just wanted to do what their hearts & minds told them they had a fundamental human responsibility to do.

These cable leaders, this industry, ushered in what the 44th President of the United States called “a new era of responsibility,” long before Barack Obama was in public office. This industry pioneered corporate social responsibility—on behalf of a huge, worldwide industry with enormous power and reach—specifically, in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

We recognized long ago—and we continue to adhere to these truths—that, as President Obama said, “we have duties to ourselves, our nation and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character than giving our all to a difficult task.”

Our work, as an industry and as individuals, personifies this ethic of public service.

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