The New 'Family Tier’

Editor’s note: This excerpt previews comments to be presented tomorrow night, March 7, by Steve Villano of Cable Positive, the cable industry’s AIDS-action organization, at the group’s annual fund-raising dinner, set at New York’s Marriott Marquis Hotel.

In the 25th year of the AIDS epidemic, which now takes six lives per minute, will we finally see the disease for what it is? A family disease, not a disease of color, geography, gender or sexuality, but a family disease, affecting Africa and Asia as well as Atlanta; altering the lives of our sisters and sons who are HIV-positive, and our brothers and daughters who are not.

But how much beyond a programming tier does the cable industry’s obligation to “family” reach? How far does our commitment to the community carry? And what constitutes “community?”

I suggest to you that as the distance between thought and action around the globe grows as short and quick as the sliver of space between our “enter” and “delete” buttons on our keyboards, we are, like it or not, mugged by our responsibilities — responsibilities to inform and educate a growing collection of communities about our common interests, concerns and humanity.

This new family tier has a much more profound meaning and message than the one the FCC fusses over. This family tier is aimed at the fact-based indecencies that do verifiable violence to the families which are its victims. Real-world indecencies of poverty, hunger, war and rising wave of diseases like AIDS, malaria and TB (tuberculosis), which according to UNICEF, kill 29,000 children under the age of 5 each day.

Why don’t faith-based groups and government agencies do better, more useful work and devote their every breath to blocking real, day-by-day indecencies, rather than always opting for the appearance of action by picking on TV programming?

We have too much good work to do in this world to be consumed by the cosmetics of content regulation. With the United Nations estimating that two-thirds of new HIV infections could be eliminated with proper education, every 30 seconds of air time is a potential “weapon of mass instruction,” with a mission no less urgent than saving lives.

In our family tier — in the real world of 3 million annual AIDS deaths and 5 million new HIV infections — a la carte has a far, far different meaning.

In the real world of the poor of Atlanta or the HIV positive African-Americans of New Orleans their menu is not drizzled with an array of a la carte choices.

For them, the choices are stark: Medicaid or no HIV medication; buying a bus ticket out of town, or buying bread to eat. All the rest, I suggest to you, is distraction at best, or designed neglect, at the most disturbing level.