Forum: The War Against AIDS Is Far from Over


As the momentum gathers for Cable Positive's Third AnnualBenefit Dinner April 26 in New York, I am reminded of how our industry's roots make usparticularly well-suited to meet the challenge of combating AIDS.

We built a new world for television and, in the process, wedeveloped a strong feeling that we were all in this together. Our bonding brought with ita sense of a larger responsibility that transcended the success of our individualcompanies.

We viewed ourselves as part of the cable community, part ofthe local community, part of the national community and, eventually, part of theinternational community. We took pride in being an industry with a social conscience,committed to helping one another and the viewers that we served.

When Cable Positive was founded in 1992, it offered membersof the industry a chance to draw on the spirit of our origins. Our ingenuity, ourdetermination and our willingness to tackle the impossible were channeled into a noblecause. Seven years later, our collective efforts have never been needed more.

Nothing would be more satisfying than to announce at thedinner April 26 that the crisis has ended. We're ready to hang up our "Gone Out ofBusiness" sign. Unfortunately, the war is not over. It is, in fact, assuming new andthreatening proportions.

An article in the March issue of Esquire magazinedefines the problems in excruciating detail: the absence of a cure or a vaccine; theexcessive optimism produced by the initial success of protease inhibitors; the drop-off inresources; the flaws of the combination therapies; the unpredictable mutations of thevirus; and the increasing pace of HIV infection.

That same month, The New York Times ran an articlehighlighting the decision by advertising agency Young & Rubicam Inc. to join theAmerican Foundation for AIDS Research (AmFAR) in fighting the perception that the battleis finished. Their campaign features the theme: "We've bought time. More researchwill buy answers."

Each article sent a warning signal: It's time for us todeploy new troops, to step up the programs and initiatives put in place over the pastseven years and to renew our commitment to the essential work of the organization.

As part of a forward-thinking industry and the force behindthe most powerful medium in the world, we know how to educate our viewers. Issue-orientedprogramming and public-service announcements created and distributed by Cable Positive arepowerful tools for enlightenment.

Each network offers unique assets to implement theorganization's mission. I was at FX when Cable Positive first approached me to discuss howwe could help to raise money and awareness. The studio had live capability, and we came upwith the idea of a live, on-air and online auction.

In the space of 35 minutes, FX raised more than $30,000 forthe cause by auctioning off TheX-Files memorabilia. This was one of threeauctions that we did.

Last December, Disney Channel hit a high point in our questto raise awareness among children and families. We aired Friends for Life: Living withAIDS to honor World AIDS Day. The documentary took viewers inside the hearts and mindsof children living with HIV and AIDS.

Disney chose two of the best in the business to shepherdthis important film to its destination. Two-time Oscar-winning documentarian BarbaraKopple and Laurie Meadoff of the cutting-edge Next/Next Entertainment made sure that ourviewers left their TV sets with an enhanced understanding and compassion for theseremarkable kids.

Disney Channel has implemented Cable Positive's AIDS in theWorkplace seminars companywide. These presentations keep our employees well-informed andenable them to give enduring and heartfelt support to those living with AIDS.

AIDS doesn't discriminate: It affects everyone. We have thepower to reach many different audiences in many different ways.

Over a decade ago, Lifetime Television aired one of thefirst documentaries on women and AIDS. This weekend, Lifetime will reair Something toLive for: The Alison GertzStory, about a woman afflicted with AIDS.

Steve Kmetko, co-anchor of E! Entertainment Television's E!News Daily, is a spokesman for Cable Positive.

Home Box Office addressed the politics of AIDS in thehard-hitting And theBand Played On and again in Into the Gloaming.

I believe Leo J. Hindery Jr. said it best in his recentletter to many of you requesting your support. He stated, "If Cable Positive is notsupported by an organization as prominent in and as important to our industry as yours,then we are all in trouble."

Leo, Gerry Laybourne and Barry Diller have worked hard toensure that Cable Positive enjoys the full benefit of your support, along with thecommitted leadership of Jeff Bernstein and Molly Padian.

We all look forward to the day when Cable Positive is nolonger necessary, but for now, we must face the harsh reality: This enemy virus remainsindefatigable. AIDS claimed 13.9 million lives by the end of 1998, and more than 30million others are still living with HIV.

Our battlefront is now twofold: to fight the disease, andto fight the complacency born of the misconception that the war is over.

When I step up to the podium next week to accept the JoelA. Berger Award, I'll do so with your support. Surrounding me will be a room full ofpeople accustomed to moving mountains. We set a new standard in our industry. Now, we mustgo forth and set a new standard in educating, preventing and disabling this disease.

For more information on the dinner or on making a donationto Cable Positive, please call 212-852-5190.

Anne Sweeney is president of both Disney/ABC Cable Networks and Disney Channel.