Liveblogging: UN Youth Assembly Day 2 – MTV Youth Activist Program

Good morning! Here’s the second day of the Youth Assembly, and it’s bound to be just as busy as the first.

Starting off the day is Ian Rowe, VP of Public Affairs at MTV. MTV is passionate about young people and their possibilities for being a force of good – just like the UN. MTV mainly airs shows about pop culture, but they receive the most power from showing emotional human-interest stories of young people who have gone through a lot in their life and still keep on living.

MTV wants to use “our superpowers for good” – engaging their youth to make a difference. They reach nearly 1 billion people worldwide, and use that reach to reach out to young people worldwide through various programming and efforts. Their main efforts are in HIV/AIDS, education, and global warming.

We are shown a video of all the different campaigns and PSAs MTV has run over the years on various issues, with plans for future programs. They are especially strong on youth issues, youth voting (with various Choose to Lose campaigns), and HIV/AIDS. Ian talks about how young people weren’t aware of their vulnerability to HIV/AIDS in 1981, and when MTV started then, they decided to focus on that issue and educate young people about protecting themselves, with PSAs and toll-free numbers. They have also partnered with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation recently to showcase the issue of teens dropping out from school. He reads out the words of winner of their Be The Voice competition, who talks about how it is important for every student to have the opportunity to graduate ready for life.

Another campaign they work on is climate change. Polar bears and melting ice never really connected the issue to young Americans, but MTV made this an opportunity to launch Break The Addiction, a 12-step environmental campaign to educate young people about steps they can take to take care of the environment, and internationally they have launched Switch too. The campaigns have had a major impact, as most youths have mentioned the environment as their top concern and priority for change.

Now they are embarking on a new phase: Think, a multimedia community around youth activism. More information will come out in the next few weeks. MTV strongly believes in the power of youth and will still continue various initiatives to get us involved.

One person asks about negative programming on MTV. Ian acknowledges that those images may not be positive, but the audience is able to discern between the two. They’re not fighting against each other. Youth have come to MTV for assistance with issues dear to them – they don’t have those resources close to them, so they go to MTV to help show those stories. Another person asks about “reality tv” that isn’t very real, and doesn’t really see those campaigns that often on MTV. Ian mentions that they have different strategies: one is to work with celebrities to develop PSAs, and the other is to integrate those messages into their usual programming. For instance, the 20th Anniversary of Real World will be set in an environmentally-friendly house and will involve topics of environmental concern. There was also a former Real World contestant, Pedro, who was the first gay HIV+ person on TV.

Elaine asks if there is an easy way to ask MTV of what they want. MTV decides year by year (based on research) what their issues would be, but they do face the risk of launching something that doesn’t engage the audience. That’s the basis for THINK – people with different issues and passions will get together with other young people to get mobilized and get together. They can’t realistically program for every issue but THINK would help. I asked whether it was possible to influence the artists to change their videos. Ian talked about how they once made a decision to not show videos with guns, since there was too many, and it had such a big impact as it trickled down to the record companies and artists. He thinks it is possible for such an impact to happen again, and it is up to us to really let MTV know that they don’t want that (right now the voices saying “We want that!” are louder). Another guy talks about how the issues we share and that divides us are both universal, and he asks if MTV plans to use the youth to break down barriers that exist. Ian says that it’s not so much that MTV uses youth for those aims, but that young people should use MTV to achieve the goals of understanding and peace. The more tools we have, the more we can do – and right now more tools are being open to us. The success of MTV depends on the success of engaging with their people.

Sophia talks about how she thought she shouldn’t let MTV know about what she thinks because she thought their values don’t match up, so it’s glad that Ian talked about how MTV allows young people to give their feedback. She did ask about how young people can get in touch. MTV is playing around with the idea of “getting famous for doing good” – emphasizing young people who do good instead of those that do stupid things. This would be a reward-based system, where young people making a difference would be rewarded, and those who are engaged with them can also elevate their status. The last question comes from Rico, who talks about marriage and family life, and how young people aren’t really into marriage and family anymore. He asks how MTV plans to approach family values. Ian doesn’t really know the answer, but feels that this is a good opportunity for MTV to learn from youth since this is an issue that is currently found important.

2 minute break!

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