Asserting that the public still faces a profound lack of awareness about HIV/AIDS, Secretary-General Kofi Annan today urged media executives from around the world to use their influence to spread information that people need to protect themselves from the deadly disease.
"If there is one thing that we have learned 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 and informed way," the Secretary-General said at the launch in New York of the Global Media AIDS Initiative, an alliance between the UN system and the media born of a partnership between the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and the Kaiser Family Foundation.
"You can create an enabling environment, where individuals are free to explore ways of keeping themselves safe and changing their behaviour as necessary," he told participants.
Noting that 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, Mr. Annan said, "We must and we can change this situation."
He said broadcasters could designate the fight against HIV/AIDS as a corporate priority. They could dedicate airtime to public service messages and provide prominent news coverage to the epidemic. They could also air special educational or awareness-raising programming.
"More widely, you can join together to form partnerships that draw on shared reach and resources, as some of you have already done," he said. "You can reach out to other organizations, such as Government departments, NGOs [non-governmental organizations] and civil society groups. You can offer resources and access to airtime, while your partners can provide expertise."
The Secretary-General said the UN family and the media could build an alliance with an ambitious agenda, one that would inform, educate and entertain people "as a means to giving them the knowledge and incentive they need to protect themselves against HIV/AIDS."
"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," he said. "If we can get young people to take the lead in the movement for change, the pandemic can be turned around."