The president of MTV, Stephen Friedman, has added pushing a social change campaign to his agenda for the long-standing music television network. Friedman joined the company in 1998 to create the department of Strategic Partnerships and Public Affairs, but social responsibility has always been a major part of his life. Friedman is also fascinated with the strong effect the media can have on people, particularly teenagers and young adults.

After Friedman graduated from Wesleyan University, he worked for the nonprofit organization, PEN American Center, which helps encourage the fight for free expression and stands up for those who don’t have freedoms of speech or expression. It was during his time with PEN that Friedman realized how powerful the media can be to encourage social responsibility, and he gravitated more towards the media industry, working at a media consulting firm and contacted later by MTV for the Strategic Partnership and Public Affairs position.

Friedman’s first major action of social change with MTV came when he was head of mtvU, the company’s college network, and he developed the Darfur is Dying video game.  He realized that college students were upset over the conflicts in Darfur in 2004, so to educate more people about the issue, he created the viral game. The game was so popular MTV was awarded the Governor’s Emmy Award and set the bar for other companies.

One of MTV’s more popular pushes to create social change is through their hit shows 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom. These shows were intended to demonstrate the unglamorous life of young mothers who unintentionally become pregnant and encourage education about unprotected sex at a young age. Although some people disagree with the shows’ messages, believing that these programs do, in fact, glamorize pregnancy by turning teen mothers into TV stars, the CDC’s 2010 report shows that teen pregnancies are at a record low in the US, and many experts claim that MTV’s programs have been a factor in the decrease.

MTV has evolved over the years. What started as a station only for music videos has morphed into a network that promotes social responsibility and change through educational and entertaining programs. The company has learned that it can multitask to be able to encourage responsibility among young adults while still giving them something fun to watch.

Katie Brockman
Sources: Fast Company, PEN American Center
Photo: MTV