DIVA TV Media News


May 1996    written by Cynthia Chris

AIDS Video Censored

Peer Education, Not Fear Education, a video that promotes "reality-based" HIV/AIDS education in public schools, was designed to combat fear. However, the video seems to have generated fears at the New York State AIDS Institute, which decided not to show the tape at its annual conference in Albany last January 28-29. The video, produced by Tom Beer and Ionnis Mookas and directed by Mookas, was one of only three submitted for screening at the conference, which draws some 1,700 health care providers, representatives of community based organizations, and advocates for people living with HIV/AIDS. But in a move apparently calculated to sidestep controversy, the committee that reviewed the tapes opted to show the other two, Risk Reduction for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing and Dyke TV's Lesbians and AIDS, and reject Peer Education, Not Fear Education, the only tape specifically focused on education for teens.

Abs(tin)ence of Malice?
The New York State AIDS Institute found
Peer Education, Not Fear Education too political.

According to Beer, his initial contact with the AIDS Institute conference programmer Hope Goldhaber had been promising; she even suggested he attend the conference to field questions from viewers. Just days before the event, however, Beer received word that there was "no way" Peer Education could be shown at the state-sponsored conference; the review committee, he was told had found it too political.

Frances Tarlton, spokesperson for the New York State Office of Public Health, which sponsors the event, says the reason for the rejection is that the videos were shown continuously in a room designed for "drop in" rather than "sit down" viewers, and the review committee was afraid most people would see only a few minutes of Beer and Mookas's half-hour tape before moving on. According to Tarlton, the committee expressed concern that sections taken out of context might give the impression the tape entirely dismissed abstinence as a possible choice for teens: "Seeing snippets of it instead of the piece in its entirety could give people the wrong idea."

But Beer thinks that the underlying issue is that the state government, becoming increasingly conservative under Governor George Pataki's Republican administration, is eager to avoid offending right-wing interests over the potentially explosive topic of HIV/AIDS education in public schools. While the bulk of Peer Education, Not Fear Education is taken up by a series of interview with experts in the field and peer educators--a diverse group of teens, some of whom advocate teaching abstinence as well as safer sex--the video also critiques the "fear-based" and abstinence-only AIDS education endorsed by the religious right. Peer Education excerpts a video called No Second Chance, produced by Jeremiah Films (whose Gay Rights/Special Rights drew protests form gay activists); in one scene a teenage boy asks the adult lecturer, "What if I want to have sex before I get /married?" She replies, "Well, I guess you'll just have to be prepared to die."

Peer Education, Not Fear Education was originally produced for AIDS Community Television, a weekly cable series in New York, and has already been widely screened without incident by, among others, the AIDS and Adolescents Network of New York; the American School Health Association conference in Kent, Ohio; the Metro Teen AIDS conference in Washington, D.C.; the Wisconsin State AIDS Program conference in Madison; and, via Free Speech TV, on public access cable television in as many as 50 cities. But it remains unclear how New York's youth will fare if educational materials such as Peer Education, Not Fear Education continue to be passed over by state officials tiptoeing around potentially controversial--and potentially lifesaving--information.



Cynthia Chris is a frequent contributor to Afterimage and has written extensively on AIDS activist media. Her writing has also been seen in Felix, Exposure, High Performance, and P-Form.



see also review: Journal of HIV/AIDS Prevention & Education..

see synopsis and How to Order: Peer Education, Not Fear Education