MTV discovers the flip side to all that sex

The music video channel launches a series of documentaries on Aids, drugs and crime

MTV, entertainment of choice for a generation of couch potatoes, is to shift its emphasis from eye-popping, controversial videos to social campaigning.

As it celebrates 25 years of non-stop music videos, the channel will combine a headline-grabbing stunt to find the sleaziest and most controversial video in pop history, with a virtuous series of documentaries investigating Aids, sex, drugs and crime. It will also feature two special programmes: Clinton Uncut, filmed at the 2002 International Aids Conference in Barcelona, and Meeting Mandela - where young people tell their stories to the former South African president.

The broadcaster, which launched at 00.01am on 1 August 1981 with the words "ladies and gentlemen: rock and roll", is keenly aware that it shares its 25th anniversary year with that of a far more poignant date: the first recorded case of Aids. But most of its 500 million viewers world-wide will tune in to discover which video they have voted on to the list of "Top 100 Videos That Broke the Rules". Front-runners include Duran Duran's "Girls on Film" with its nudity; Madonna's "Like a Prayer", where a Jesus figure comes to life and kisses her; and "Rock DJ" by Robbie Williams (below) where he strips off clothes and skin.

Chris Cowey, producer of TV music shows The Tube and Top of the Pops, said that MTV was a "stroke of genius", exploiting the eagerness of music companies to make expensive pop videos at no cost to MTV itself. But, 25 years later, it should be called "Lifestyle TV", as it is superseded by websites such as MySpace and YouTube, which allow users to "programme" their own videos and playlists. That means teenagers no longer have to rely on US-derived music shows. Mr Cowey added: "We've got the chance to be in command of our culture again."

Yet, like the mobile giant Motorola and Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates, with their Aids projects, MTV insists it takes its association with the pandemic to heart, and it won public service broadcasting awards in the US last month.

"The MTV audience has never known a day without HIV," said a spokesman. "Young people are critical to ending the pandemic. MTV is proud of our history in educating [them] on HIV/Aids."

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