Television channels pledge to back HIV/AIDS battle

MUMBAI: The fight against AIDS is getting some aid from television channels in India. The Heroes Project, an initiative launched by film star Richard Gere along with socialite Paramweswar Godrej to create HIV AIDS awareness and, which had earlier got support from Star India, today got a shot in the arm with channels such as MTV, NDTV, state-run Prasar Bharati, Sony Entertainment Television, Sun TV, and Zee TV pledging that they would also join in its cause.

In a meeting with the Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, Gere, information and broadcasting minister Jaipal Reddy, the channels pledged that they too would put in their might against the rapidly spreading AIDS menace. They said that they would use their collective communications expertise and resources to reach the common Indian man, particularly the youth, with information on how to prevent HIV and to help combat AIDS-related stigma and discrimination.

The TV channels CEOs said that they are going to produce special programmes on AIDS, and the theme will also feature in TV shows and serials made by them.

Says Zee Telefilms vice-chairman Jawahar Goel: "Zee TV was the pioneer amongst private satellite television channels when it decided to carry communications around the polio awareness campaign sometimeback. We had committed almost Rs 500-600 million in airtime then. It therefore stands to reason that we will back an AIDS awareness initiative too."

Earlier, in July 2004, Star India had committed an estimated $14 million in airtime through its media assets - Star World, Star Gold, Channel [V], Star Plus, Star Gold, Star Movies, National Geographic Channel, Star Vijay and Radio City over the duration of the three-year Heroes Project.

Star India CEO Peter Mukerjea had then said, "We are proud to announce Star's role in this critical call to action. It is our hope by doing so that the door shall remain open to additional media companies in India and throughout the world. We accept our social responsibility to influence the solution rather than ignore the devastation."

As part of that initiative, Star had telecast spots which featured star cricketer Rahul Dravid putting on his helmet and issuing the warning to viewers: "Don't take chances with AIDS. Protect yourself and others."

The Heroes Project campaign has received a $2.4 million grant for three years from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and has a partnership for the public education initiative with the nonprofit organisation - Henry J Kaiser Family Foundation.

Amongst the 25 media companies that pledged their support to provide advertising space to run Aids messages were The Hindu, The Hindustan Times and Dainik Jagran.

Admitting the fact that the HIV/AIDS problem had been "grossly under-estimated" and it was growing in "intensity and geographical spread, Reddy said that HIV will be treated on a stand-alone basis as it is a pandemic that is spreading silently.

Gere, on his behalf said that he was amazed by the pledge by media houses to commit "time, energy and space" to counter the deadly disease.

As a part of this, a "creative summit" would be held to frame "out of the box" thinking to effectively communicate the threat posed by AIDS.

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