Secretary of State to call town meeting for youth

After weeks of delicate negotiations, MTV said Monday that Secretary of State Colin Powell will headline a global town meeting next month and take questions from young viewers about America’s intentions as the war on terrorism continues. The date in February has not yet been set.

MTV is hardly a natural venue for military man Powell, but in Washington’s new campaign to win the hearts and minds of the world, not even Powell can resist the allure of the music cabler’s impressive reach.

MTV’s forum was arranged independently of Hollywood’s special wartime committee. But it nevertheless jibes nicely with a pledge by the entertainment/media biz to do what it can to open up a dialogue between the U.S. and other countries, particularly in the Middle East.

“Young people are very attuned to recent events, and this MTV Global Forum will give them the opportunity to debate these issues in a frank, public multimedia environment, regardless of political ideology or religion,” said MTV Networks Intl. prexy Bill Roedy.

MTV programming prexy Brian Graden said, given the net’s “disproportionate reach with younger viewers” around the world, it’s MTV’s responsibility in a time like this to examine what its role should be. “The point is not to take a position, but to help get people in touch with the big decision-makers,” he told Daily Variety at the Television Critics Assn. Tour in Pasadena, where the announcement was made.

The 60-minute forum will be carried on MTV channels reaching 374.7 million households worldwide, with questions posed by kids in the Middle East, India, Italy, Russia, Brazil, the United Kingdom and the U.S. Studio audiences will gather at respective MTV locations, with MTV News correspondents and VJs guiding the Q&A with Powell via satellite. VJs in each territory are bilingual and will translate viewers’ questions to Powell, who will field the questions in Washington, D.C., from a facility to be determined.

“I look forward to speaking one-on-one with young people from across the world in this unique forum to discuss world affairs,” Powell said. “The world’s youth are not only our future, but also our greatest hope for solving long-term problems and for building vitally needed understanding between people and cultures.”

O’seas publicity campaign

Next week, Powell’s new undersecretary for public diplomacy, Charlotte Beers, is scheduled to travel to Egypt to pursue an overseas campaign to bolster America’s image. Any such campaign likely will involve placing ads and public service announcements in the region’s government-owned media outlets. Beers faces a tough task, since regimes in Egypt and elsewhere are unlikely to run ads or PSAs produced by the U.S. government.

Setting up the gig with Powell also proved sensitive for MTV Intl., which made it clear from the outset that regional channels wouldn’t be forced to run the program. MTV didn’t want to be seen as a propaganda vehicle for Washington, reflecting the delicate dance the entertainment biz faces in undertaking such projects.

Meanwhile, in Pasadena, MTV sister net VH1 announced a new original pic and upcoming programming, as expected (Daily Variety, Jan. 14). Pic, tentatively titled “P.M.R.C.,” is a satiric look at the Tipper Gore-led war on “porn rock.” Starring Jason Priestley, Mariel Hemingway and Dee Snider, it preems April 17.

VH1 programming head Fred Graver said the net’s upcoming Hollywood-based talker will launch in March, with a host and correspondents. Of its content, Graver said, if Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” is the front page, “We’re the feature section.” While Graver would not identify the talent, he referred to the host as “him.” Insiders said the host is likely to be an unknown.

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