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Redstone, Gere talk AIDS at U.N.

Summit part of Viacom's ongoing awareness efforts

NEW YORK — Viacom prexy-CEO Sumner Redstone and Richard Gere spoke at United Nations headquarters Tuesday at a conference on how media companies can attack the global AIDS epidemic.

Viacom and MTV Networks Intl. helped sponsor the conference, billed as the “first-ever global creative meeting on HIV/AIDS,” which brought together over a hundred execs from nongovernmental organizations and 35 media companies around the world.

“Now we have the chance to join forces and apply our commercial skills to this crucial social issue,” Redstone said in his opening remarks.

At lunch in a private dining room overlooking the East River, Gere spoke about his AIDS awareness efforts in India, encouraging media companies to cooperate with other companies, non-media businesses, NGOs and governments.

“We’re, on some level, dilettantes, all of us,” he said. “We have good hearts and we want to do good and we want to save more people, but we fit it into our schedule.”

Plus, “whoever your CEOs are have to be involved.”

Summit is part of Viacom’s ongoing AIDS awareness efforts. Two years ago, the conglom partnered with the Kaiser Family Foundation, another sponsor of the conference, to create the Know HIV/AIDS campaign, which inserts AIDS awareness programming into various branches of its empire.

Conference featured presentations of AIDS awareness success stories. Sesame Workshop, for example, brought in Kami, an HIV-positive puppet who stars in the South African version of “Sesame Street,” “Takalani Sesame.” Reps from BET, CBS, UPN, MTV, BBC and India’s Doordarshan also made presentations.

“I encourage you to — and this is the only time you’ll hear me say this — steal shamelessly,” Redstone advised. “If you see something that works, that speaks to your audiences, then by all means, leverage it.”

Other conference sponsors included the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the International Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, the Joint United Nations Program on AIDS and the United Nations Dept. of Information.

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