Press Releases

    SG/SM/9116
    AIDS/68
    16 January 2004

    “In the World of AIDS, Silence Is Death” Says Secretary-General at Launch of United Nations Global Media Initiative on HIV/AIDS

    NEW YORK, 15 January (UN Headquarters) -- Following are Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s remarks for the launch of the United Nations Global Media Initiative on HIV/AIDS in New York, 15 January:

    Let me begin by welcoming you to the United Nations, and by thanking every one of you for coming.  I know you have taken time out of very busy schedules to be here, and many of you have travelled long distances.

    Let me also wish you all a happy new year.  I hope we will have a much more stable and peaceful and easier year, this year than last year.  It may be early in 2004, but already I can say that for me, this is bound to be one of the most important meetings the year will bring.

    Every generation faces its great challenge.  The fight against HIV/AIDS may be ours.  Only if we meet this challenge can we succeed in our other efforts to build a humane, healthy and equitable world.

    We cannot do it without the unparalleled power of you, the media.  That is why we are meeting here today.

    The idea of an alliance between the United Nations family and the media was born through the partnership between UNAIDS and the Kaiser Family Foundation.  I owe them a debt of gratitude for bringing us together.  Thanks also to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for its financial support.

    Today, we will hear first from Dr. Peter Piot of UNAIDS about the challenge of HIV/AIDS, and then from Drew Altman of Kaiser, on why the media’s role in meeting that challenge is so important.

    Peter, you have the floor. Thank you very much.

    [Presentations by Dr. Piot and Dr. Altman.  The Secretary-General then resumes his remarks:]

    Thank you, Dr. Altman, thank you Peter, for those valuable insights.

    As Peter’s presentation made clear, experts now agree that HIV/AIDS is the worst epidemic humanity has ever faced.  It has spread further, faster and with more catastrophic long-term effects than any other disease.  Its impact has become a devastating obstacle to development.

    Yet among the public at large, there is still a profound lack of knowledge and awareness about HIV/AIDS -- especially among young people.  Recent surveys from more than 40 countries show that more than half of all adolescents and young adults have serious misconceptions about HIV/AIDS, and about how the virus is transmitted.

    We must and we can change this situation.  Fortunately, our age has provided powerful tools that can improve those dismal statistics and help turn the tide of the epidemic.  That is where all of you come in.

    As leaders of the media, you have the power and the reach to disseminate the information people need to protect themselves from HIV/AIDS.  Many of you here have already made magnificent contributions to the fight against the epidemic.  We hope to see many more of them in the future.

    If there is one thing we have learnt in the two decades of this epidemic, it is that in the world of AIDS, silence is death.  As broadcasters, you can bring the disease out of the shadows and get people talking about it in an open, informed way.

    You can create an enabling environment, where individuals are free to explore ways of keeping themselves safe and changing their behaviour as necessary.

    How, specifically, can you do this?

    You can designate the fight against HIV/AIDS as a corporate priority.  This would mean a commitment at the highest level, which would translate into a powerful influence on programming in all spheres.

    You can dedicate airtime to public service messages.  You can provide prominent news coverage to the epidemic to help ensure it is kept high on the political agenda, both nationally and globally.  Many of you here are doing exactly that, and it was good to see such extensive media coverage of World AIDS Day last December 1st.  By keeping the epidemic in the headlines, you can encourage world leaders to accept the gravity of the crisis and commit greater efforts -- and more resources -- to the fight.

    You can take on the task of broadcasting special educational or awareness-raising programmes.  We have seen some fine examples of broadcasters dedicating space to the issue over time in a sustained manner.  Many have combined programmes in a highly creative way, featuring documentaries, concerts, arts programmes, competitions and children’s shows.

    You can also explore HIV/AIDS in mainstream programming.  Education and entertainment are not mutually exclusive.  If, for example, a well-known character in a popular television series has to confront HIV or AIDS, this can have a dramatic effect on viewers or listeners who may not choose to watch or listen to a non-fiction programme about the epidemic.  In several regions, television dramas have been used to bring AIDS awareness to wider audiences than traditional health promotion could ever hope to reach -- from the series “Ordinary People” in China to “Heart and Soul”, developed with UN support in sub-Saharan Africa.

    In this country, as you know, television dramas were part of the movement of political AIDS art which helped to inscribe the story of the disease in the national consciousness over the past two decades.  That movement was among the most powerful examples ever seen of art working successfully for change.  There could be no more eloquent reminder of that than the adaptation for television of the play “Angels in America”, which was broadcast last month.

    More widely, you can join together to form partnerships that draw on shared reach and resources, as some of you have already done.  You can reach out to other organizations, such as government departments, non-governmental organizations and civil society groups.  You can offer resources and access to airtime, while your partners can provide expertise.

    We have come together today to lay the foundations of a Global Media AIDS Initiative.  You are the founding members.  Together, the United Nations 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.

    I have asked our co-chairs today, UNAIDS and the Kaiser Family Foundation, to take the lead in working with each of you as you move forward to make new commitments or expand existing efforts.

    I believe this is a unique opportunity none of us would want to miss -- and its greatest impact will be where it is most needed, among young people.  If we can get young people to take the lead in the movement for change, the pandemic can be turned around.

    And now I greatly look forward to our discussion.  Thank you very much.

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