Press Releases

    16 January 2004

    World Media Leaders Gather at Headquarters for Launch of AIDS Initiative; Told by Secretary-General ”In the World of AIDS, Silence Is Death”

    NEW YORK, 15 January (UN Headquarters) -- “If there is anything we have learned in the two decades of this epidemic, it is that in the world of AIDS, silence is death”, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan told leaders of more than 20 of the world’s leading media organizations this morning, during a round-table meeting at Headquarters launching the Global Media AIDS Initiative.

    The Initiative will explore how the media can create long-lasting public education campaigns and generate further attention to the pandemic.  Participants in this morning’s meeting included leaders from the BBC, China Central TV, Discovery Communications, Inc., MTV Networks International, the South African Broadcasting Corporation, Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation, Viacom Inc., and Black Entertainment TV.

    The idea of an alliance between the United Nations and the media was generated through the partnership between the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and the Kaiser Family Foundation, a private foundation with a decade of experience working with media on social campaigns, and supported financially by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

    The Secretary-General told the gathering that experts now agreed HIV/AIDS was the worst epidemic humanity had ever faced.  Its impact had become a devastating obstacle to development.  Yet, among the public at large, there was still a profound lack of knowledge and awareness about the pandemic, especially among young people.  Leaders of the media had the power and the reach to disseminate the information people needed to protect themselves from the disease.

    Media leaders could create an enabling environment where individuals were free to explore ways of keeping themselves safe and changing their behaviour as necessary, he said.  Media leaders could designate the fight against HIV/AIDS as a corporate priority and could dedicate airtime to public service messages.  Prominent news coverage of the epidemic could be provided to help ensure it was kept high on the national and global political agenda.

    Special education or awareness-raising programmes could be broadcast, he said, noting that many already had combined programmes in a highly creative way, featuring documentaries, concerts, arts programmes, competitions and children’s shows.  The media could also explore HIV/AIDS in mainstream programmes, as had been done in the series “Ordinary People” in China or “Heart and Soul”, developed with UN support in sub-Saharan Africa.  Media could also form partnerships that draw on shared reach and resources, and they could reach out to government departments, non-governmental organizations and civil society groups, offering resources and access to airtime.

    “Together, the UN family and the media can build an alliance with an ambitious agenda:  to inform, to educate, to entertain people as a means to giving them the knowledge and incentive they need to protect themselves against HIV/AIDS”, he said in conclusion.

    Peter Piot, Executive Director, UNAIDS, said in opening remarks that AIDS was an epidemic of the information age.  Yet, it was precisely the tools of the information age that were the strongest weapons in the fight against the epidemic, as denial, inaction, ignorance, stigma and discrimination were the key forces that allowed it to spread.

    He said AIDS was an unprecedented global emergency that threatened the stability and security of African nations and, if left unchecked, could have a devastating impact on nations of Asia and Eastern Europe.  “Perhaps most alarmingly, despite knowing what works, we are not yet reversing its spread”, he continued, saying that more people had been infected with HIV and more people had died of AIDS last year than in any previous one.

    Progress in the global response to AIDS had already been made since the 2001 General Assembly Special Session on HIV/AIDS, he said, with increased political leadership and commitment and a great increase in resources:  up from $200 million in 1996 to $4.7 billion in 2003.  He was convinced, however, that by acting now, the next generation could be the generation without AIDS.

    For the first time in the 20-year history of the epidemic, the world was finally getting serious and taking action, he said.  “What makes today’s meeting historic is your commitment and action to harness the enormous power of your companies in making AIDS part of your core business”, he continued, and said that would have a tremendous impact on the world’s response to the epidemic.

    Drew Altman, President and CEO of the Henry J. Kaiser Foundation also made a presentation.  At a luncheon for media executives, Bill Gates, of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and chairman of the Microsoft Corporation, delivered the keynote address.

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