Originally created 01/10/01

MTV's grand gesture

On Wednesday night, MTV will do something it's never done before: It will shut down its airwaves for more than 17 hours.

Instead of airing such network stalwarts as "Celebrity Deathmatch" and "Total Request Live," the network will run a scroll listing the names of hundreds of victims of hate crimes.

The blackout - which will air after a program depicting the death of gay college student Matthew Shepard and an MTV News special examining hate crimes- is the kickoff of a year-long effort to educate MTV's audience about discrimination.

The network has planned 200 hours of social programming, including special editions of the reality show "The Real World," and other MTV news programs.

The campaign is partly the result of a national poll that found 82 percent of 12- to 24-year-olds support expanding the federal hate crimes legislation to include protection based on gender, sexual orientation and disabilities.

But it's also the result of a year of hand-wringing by MTV executives concerned about incidents of popular culture crossing the line - especially rapper Eminem, whose gay- and female-bashing lyrics last year outraged many groups. The network has been criticized for its role in popularizing the artist.

MTV President of Programming Brian Graden said when the network first got Eminem's videos - before the release of his popular album - they were cartoon-like and innocent. The network later learned that Eminem had given them pre-edited versions of the videos.

"Not until the album became available did we realize the scope of it," he said.

Graden said it isn't the network's role to censor popular culture, but it did decide to stop promoting him. It also aired a special on the Eminem hubbub called "When Lyrics Attack."

"We're not going to stop the wave of popular culture," Graden said, "but what we can do is get our audience to think."

That MTV has helped popularize artists such as Eminem has not discouraged groups such as the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network from partnering with MTV on the project.

"Young people are very sophisticated," said Kevin Jennings of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network. "They understand videos represent the views of the artist, not the views of the network."

The scroll will begin at 10 p.m. Eastern and Pacific times, 9 p.m. Central Time and 8 p.m. Mountain Time on Wednesday after the original movie "Anatomy of a Hate Crime" and an MTV news special on discrimination. It will conclude 17 12 hours later - on Thursday.

Sacrificing 17 12 hours of airtime will cost the network more than $2 million in ad revenue, but Graden said the financial losses weren't part of the debate.

"As long as we are connecting with our audience," he said, "we can make the money up somewhere else."

The campaign will have a home on the Internet, where Web surfers can get information on how to send letters to Congress encouraging passage of legislation against hate crimes.

In 1999, MTV launched a similar social campaign: "Fight for Your Rights: Take a Stand Against Violence." That social campaign focused on raising awareness of youth violence. The campaign won Emmy awards for the network but took less than 50 hours of airtime, Graden said.

The network's third "Choose or Lose" campaign in 2000 helped sign up more than 1 million new registered voters, Graden said.

Caryl Stern-LaRosa, director of the Anti-Defamation League's Education Division, said she hopes MTV's efforts will help change the hearts of people who harbor prejudices.

"We know people learn to hate," she said. "And we know they can unlearn to hate."

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(Contact Jessica Wehrman at WehrmanJ@shns.com or http://www.shns.com.)


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