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Culture

VIVA las Peace

VIVA, Germany’s answer to MTV, has branded itself as the peace-loving music video channel. German teenagers are calling up the VJs to discuss their fears about the war with Iraq.

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VIVA: it's all about peace and music on the rug

The young caller on the request line had a couple of things on her mind. For one thing, she was just dying to hear a little Britney Spears. Once she had passed the request along, she turned to the next pressing matter on her mind: "And, I’d just like to add a few words about what effect this war is going to have on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict."

As the U.S-led war against Iraq continues, hundreds of young Germans like her are trying out a form of group therapy being offered by their favorite German music television station, VIVA. The callers get to hear their favorite songs and a few words of advice from the VJs who appear on the daily request show.

The show is one of several anti-war promotions that VIVA has launched. The channel has replaced its blue and yellow VIVA logo – which appears on the corner of the screen at all times – with a peace sign. VJs at the channel, which is based in Cologne, have also been out on the city's streets distributing peace sign buttons and T-shirts. The station also plans to do the same thing in Berlin on Monday.

A feeling of sadness

But the real focus of the activity is the channel’s daily afternoon request show, Interaktiv. On Wednesday, the day before the U.S.-led conflict began, many callers wanted to express their sadness about the upcoming war to VJs Toby Schlegl, Milka Loff-Fernandes and Sara Kuttner.

But one German teenager had a more personal concern on his mind. He couldn't understand why his teacher hadn’t let him discuss his feelings in class.

"Did the other students want to discuss it?" asked Kuttner, sitting cross-legged on a rug and looking sympathetic.

"Do you have a school council? Perhaps you could exert a little pressure on your teacher that way," said Schlegl, who was wearing a peace sign T-shirt and a beanie.

The boy said he felt a bit happier and hung up as the channel played his Linkin Park request.

Director expresses satisfaction

This is just the sort of interaction that the channel thinks its target audience, people who are 14 to 29 years old, wants from the station. "Most young people in Germany are against this war, and we wanted to give our viewers the chance to express their feelings and talk about their worries," VIVA’s head of programming, Stefan Kauertz told DW-WORLD on Thursday.

"Many of these kids don’t have anyone they can really talk to about their feelings, so the VJs are great because they’re so well known to our viewers."

And he said he was willing to accept that some of the discussions might not be particularly deep. "They are young people, they are not fully mature, so a lot of the views they express about the war in Iraq will be naive and simplistic," he said.

Peace and Love and Tony Blair

VIVA is not the only music channel to go pop political in Germany. VIVA’s competitor, MTV Germany, has been running a campaign titled "War Is Not the Answer" for weeks. But the channel, which broadcasts to Germany, Switzerland and Austria, said that now that war had started it planned to drop the campaign. "It hasn’t stopped anything, so we’ll be winding it up in the next few days," an MTV spokesman said.

MTV had previously organized a pan-European discussion where around 40 teenagers from all over the continent grilled British Prime Minister Tony Blair. But campaign or no campaign, MTV viewers are firmly allied with the anti-war camp. A poll on the channel’s Web site asking how its viewers felt now war had begun showed that 51 percent said they were scared.

VIVA said it would monitor developments in Iraq before deciding how long it would continue to produce Interaktiv as a forum for discussions about the war.

But on a day when thousands of German school children skipped classes to protest against the conflict, Kauertz said Thursday that he believed that German children were more politically engaged than other nations’ youths.

"Perhaps, it is a German thing," he said. "In Germany, we certainly deal a lot with war and its consequences because of our own history."

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