Coming Now to a Kid Near You

MTV throws some shrewd news into the hip-hop mix, and fans around the world think it's, like, totally cool

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While each affiliate chooses its issues according to regional importance, they all convey a bedrock belief in tolerance, often attacking their subjects with in-your-face frankness. A recent MTV Europe news segment focused on Russian homophobia. Another network might have opted for tactfully restrained graphics, two men holding hands, perhaps, but the MTV piece started with a passionate on-the-mouth male kiss.

AIDS, homophobia, voting -- how does MTV keep kids interested in such weighty issues? By not getting heavy, for one thing. News is offered as food for thought, not as indisputable dictums. "We'd much rather ask a question than answer," says Tom Hunter, an MTV senior executive. The informal MTV may not be CNN, but that is exactly why kids like it. "Other news is very grown up, dry and impersonal," Germany's Angelique Desvignes, 15, explains. It also doesn't hurt that most of their news teams are barely out of secondary school. Says Victor Civita, 28, a director for MTV Brasil: "We're talking to ourselves."

The kids don't always listen. "Whenever the news comes on, I turn it off," admits Bonn student Kristian Greite, 16. His classmate Oliver Matyssen complains that the news is "superficial" -- a credible charge. No effort is made to cover major breaking events of the day. Reports are often a few facts laced between "what-do-you-think?" inquiries, most of which are to teenagers, not officials or experts.

But MTV believes its news features add protein to the mostly musical diet. The network is currently bringing its newest affiliates, MTV Japan and MTV Latino, on-line, for the moment using borrowed news segments from the other divisions. For the future, one possibility is a multichannel MTV with a nonmusic news station. Whether that ever reaches TV screens, the world's vidkids are already taking on a shared sensibility about the world that is likely to intensify the generation gap at home and tighten the bonds of the global village in the future.

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