How ViacomCBS Is Advancing Social and Racial Justice

·15 min read

Northampton, MA --News Direct-- ViacomCBS

We are committed to serving the needs of our audiences. That responsibility only intensified in 2020 as a cultural reckoning led us to confront systemic racism and bias in our country and to reexamine our role in making diversity, inclusion and equity a reality for everyone.

In our fight against hate, we have activated new partnerships, invested deeply in existing relationships and—together with our employees, who have made proof of their ceaseless passion, resiliency and ingenuity—are taking a 360-degree approach to how we conduct business and serve our communities.

As a content powerhouse with global reach and influence, we know we have more work to do. We fully recognize our responsibility to use our platforms to connect the world, create and influence culture, mark the moments that matter to all of us and inspire meaningful and lasting change.

The Gravity of 8:46

On May 25, 2020, George Floyd was murdered by a Minneapolis police officer who knelt on Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. The tumultuous weeks following Floyd’s death surfaced long-standing racism and inequities in the United States and beyond. We cannot and do not pretend that we alone hold the solution, but we know we must—and we are—using our platforms to help effect change.

Our brands met the moment with a number of on-air activations, town halls and talentsupported specials to acknowledge the collective pain and provide a call to action.

On June 1, 2020, our brands went dark for 8 minutes and 46 seconds to honor George Floyd and pay tribute to other victims of racial violence. The video was an emotive reminder of Floyd’s last moments, with the sound of natural breath punctuated by the words “I can’t breathe.” The video included a call to action with ViacomCBS partner Color of Change, encouraging audiences to demand public officials take action in real time.

CBS Sports launched “8:46,” a campaign that featured personal stories and messages spread out across 8 minutes and 46 seconds from some of CBS Sports’ prominent Black voices. The special campaign was created to help advance the conversation and create substantive change in the fight against racial injustice. Additionally, on September 6th, the campaign presented “Portraits in Black,” an unprecedented fivehour bloc of programming devoted to historical and contemporary stories of Black athletes and social justice.

Holding Space for Community

We take pride in producing diverse and inclusive content that authentically represents the many voices and stories of our audiences. In 2020, that meant providing a platform to amplify the voices of Black, indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) and creating opportunities for learning and growing, including for ourselves. During a period of isolation and shared pain, we tapped into the core of ViacomCBS to bring people together and find comfort and inspiration in community.

Standing Up for Our Values: Justice Now Specials

Empowering the Black community is core to BET’s mission. That’s why in the days following the death of George Floyd, BET used their platform to encourage conversations around racial injustice in collaboration with leading Black voices. In June, BET launched Justice Now, a series of programming addressing systemic racism. Hosted by scholar Marc Lamont Hill and joined by the likes of U.S. Senator Cory Booker, John Legend, NAACP President Derrick Johnson and others, the series gave voice to the collective grief and hope while amplifying the experts advocating for sustainable change.

Showing Up for Kids: Kids, Race and Unity Special With Alicia Keys

Nick News marked its return to primetime with Kids, Race and Unity: A Nick News Special, hosted by Alicia Keys. The special amplified the voices of Black kids, highlighted youth activists fighting racial injustice and featured a Q&A with the leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement.

As part of an expansive effort to help kids and caregivers stay informed, Nickelodeon partnered with The Conscious Kid, an organization dedicated to disrupting racism in young children. The materials developed tackle complex topics like the history of racism, white privilege and how to learn from members of the BIPOC community.

Fundraising with Flair: Chi With Love

SHOWTIME teamed up with Chicago-based artists for a virtual benefit concert in support of the Equal Justice Initiative on behalf of its drama series The Chi. The Chi with Love special featured appearances by series creator Lena Waithe and her fellow executive producer Common, who gave a headlining performance during the event. On behalf of the series, SHOWTIME and ViacomCBS kicked off the fundraising effort with a $500,000 donation to the organization.

Honoring Pride and the Black Lives Matter Movement: VidCon Now Proud Together

Proud Together looked to further VidCon Now’s mission to bring together, celebrate and amplify the beautiful, diverse voices of creators and fans in the global online video community. The live-streamed event honored Pride and the Black Lives Matter movement through a night of music, education, entertainment and fundraising. Proud Together included an original short, Fury and Faith, a powerful piece that brought to life the spectrum of emotions attached to the Black Lives Matter Movement. The piece featured a dance by Fabricio Seraphin paired with poetry written and spoken by Amanda Gorman, future presidential inauguration poet laureate. Over 53,000 people tuned in live. Viewers also had the opportunity to donate to the LGBTQ Freedom Fund, which posts bail to secure the safety and liberty of individuals in U.S. jails and immigration facilities and raises awareness around the criminalization of LGBTQ individuals.

Continuing to Elevate Diverse Voices: We Need to Talk

We Need to Talk, CBS Sports’ all-female sports talk show completed its seventh year. The program’s hosts—a revolving group of women journalists, sideline reporters, executives and athletes working in a traditionally male-dominated field—discuss and dissect all things sports, from performances and records to social justice and the pandemic. In June, the program focused almost entirely on social justice and the role of sports in advocating for inclusion. Swin Cash and Laila Ali led honest and raw discussions about their personal experiences with racism and how they strive to protect their children.

Pushing Ourselves and the Industry Forward

We have a long track record of advancing diverse narratives and talent in our content, both in front of and behind the camera. Because of our long-standing commitment to inclusion, we know that there is always room to grow.

In an effort to continue holding the mirror on ourselves, we have invested in strengthening our internal resources and platforms. As we seek to create more inclusive content and raise industry standards when it comes to social and racial justice, it’s crucial that our own employees have access to a space for discussion, learning and growth.

Through research-based strategies and the support of our partners who brought in valuable expertise and perspectives, we launched numerous initiatives in 2020 to continue to push ourselves and the media industry as a whole.

Content for Change

BET announced Content for Change, a groundbreaking social justice initiative anchored in the belief that media plays a pivotal role in shaping and driving individual and community values, perceptions and actions. In partnership with Stanford University, and with support from corporate, civil rights and social justice organizations, this effort will focus on creating and distributing content that helps drive the critical changes needed to eliminate systemic racism and inequality in America.

In other words, this initiative poses the question: How can we leverage content to reinforce anti-racist actions and beliefs? Content for Change will serve as a model for how we harness the power of our brands, content, audiences and employee connections to effect change across the entire media ecosystem.

Inspired and informed by BET’s groundbreaking campaign, ViacomCBS is building on this work by making several new commitments across our content creation lifecycle to diversify perspectives and ultimately help transform how people see themselves and each other.

Culture Code

The MTV Entertainment Group—which includes MTV, Comedy Central, Paramount Network, Smithsonian Channel, Pop TV, VH1, CMT, TV Land and Logo—launched its “Culture Code” to give our entire creative community a roadmap as storytellers to address pressing issues of race and social justice centered around core values. The Culture Code Academy will provide best-in-class trainings that educate, inform and inspire the next era of impact storytelling; it was developed in partnership with organizations like The Museum of Tolerance, Color of Change, GLAAD, Anti-Defamation League, The Jed Foundation, MPAC, RAINN, RespectAbility and Storyline Partners.

Considering How Race and Culture Impact Journalism and Storytelling

In July, CBS News announced the formation of a race and culture unit. The unit will spearhead initiatives on race and culture, support staff pitching relevant stories and ensure that the news division’s reporting reflects diverse perspectives.

We’re also aware of the intersectionality of these issues. That same month, CBS News political analyst and New York Times opinion columnist Jamelle Bouie joined CBSN to discuss the recent rise in anti-Semitic incidents, including why these problems persist despite a long history of allyship between the Jewish and Black communities.

Separately, CBS and the NAACP also launched an innovative multi-year partnership to develop and produce scripted, unscripted and documentary programming.

Increasing Representation Behind the Screen

Our company-wide diversity and inclusion talent initiatives have been trailblazing. This increased focus is well overdue, and this year we have accelerated our commitment to fostering diverse talent, including behind the scenes.

MTV Entertainment Group announced the First Time Directors Program in September 2020, which will provide opportunities for first-time BIPOC and women filmmakers to elevate multicultural narratives and voices that resonate with audiences globally. The program anticipates delivering 50 films across Paramount Network, MTV, Comedy Central and the MTV Entertainment Group portfolio in coming years.

CBS is stepping up efforts to be more inclusive to diverse television creators and writers— committing at least 25% of its script development budget to creators, writers and producers who are BIPOC starting with the 2021-22 development season. CBS is also mandating that writers’ rooms be staffed with a minimum of 40% BIPOC representation for the 2021-22 broadcast season.

We also brought on industry experts to help ensure our shows convey experiences that are more authentic to the communities they depict. CBS Television Studios inked an agreement with 21CP Solutions, the country’s preeminent law enforcement and public safety advisory group, to consult with the writing teams on their police, crime and legal drama series, mainstays of CBS’s lineup.

We will continue to show up and stand up for underrepresented communities purposefully and proactively. For a full list of initiatives, please visit our Diversity & Inclusion site.

Anti-Hate Efforts Around the Globe

As the world continues to grapple with several socioeconomic and human rights challenges, we believe that our platforms have the opportunity to champion and amplify voices of transformation in society.

  • South Africa | Nigeria: Tackling Gender-Based Violence - We drove industry-led initiatives that mobilized record labels, broadcasters, radio stations and media houses with a campaign across our platforms in the region to address gender-based and xenophobic violence. The “STOP THE VIOLENCE” campaign in South Africa encouraged action to address xenophobic attacks, gender-based femicide and violence against children. In Nigeria, ViacomCBS Networks Africa extended the campaign to denounce the atrocious violations that escalated in the country over the past year.

  • United Kingdom: In Support of Transgender Rights - ViacomCBS Networks UK, along with some of the biggest names in the media industry, sent an open letter to the UK government supporting trans people’s right to live and work uninhibited. The government delayed reforms that would have threatened the safety of the trans community after many other large organizations expressed solidarity. We will continue to remind the UK government that the vast majority of the population supports the trans community and reforms that make it easier for everyone to live authentically.

  • Germany: Breaking Down Complex Topics - What You Know About That?! (WYKAT) is a crisp digital video format that features socio-political, socio-critical and pop-cultural topics. The aim is to explain complex topics like racism, queer phobia, classism, ableism, cultural appropriation and much more in a tangible and easy way. WYKAT is developed by MTV Germany and host and influencer Wana Limar who is working with a diverse team of video creators, journalists and experts to ensure representation.

  • India: Celebrating Love in All Forms - MTV Beats, MTV India’s 24-hour Hindi music channel, released the country’s first-ever gender atypical album, Love Duet, which is inclusive of love between people other than a male and female.

  • Australia | New Zealand: Leveraging Our Platform to Work Towards Reconciliation - ViacomCBS Australia and New Zealand announced its inaugural Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP), cementing our commitment towards reconciliation with Australia’s First Peoples, as well as embedding positive cultural change. The program is centered on building meaningful relationships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, organizations, networks and educational bodies.

  • Brazil: Writing Compelling Stories - ViacomCBS International Studios began working on a new initiative in Brazil called “Narrativas Negras” (Black Narratives), a writers’ room with goals to create compelling, diverse and inclusive stories as part of ViacomCBS’s “No Diversity, No Commission” campaign.

  • North America: Preserving History - 2020 marked the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II and liberation of concentration camps across Europe. In April, 60 Minutes featured an interview between correspondent Lesley Stahl and Holocaust survivor Aaron Elster that was unlike any Stahl had done before: She was interviewing an artificially intelligent holographic recording of Elster created as part of a project to preserve our ability to converse with Holocaust survivors even after they die.

Passing the Mic to Young Changemakers

Today’s youth have the power and drive to create a better world. That’s why we use our platforms to amplify culture, support activism and empower the next generation.

Helping Young BIPOC Content Creators Break Through

Gen Z is pushing for change, but sometimes it’s hard to know where to even start. AwesomenessTV provides content featuring their favorite stars going through the same experiences as Gen Zers in order to help normalize activism and also inform them on ways that they can take action. Last year, we established a new ‘Spotlight’ series profiling young BIPOC creators—including entrepreneurs, artists, athletes and activists—on social media to show young BIPOC content creators that they have a home on AwesomenessTV’s platforms. In June, audiences followed Honey Robinson, a bi-racial teenager, on her deeply personal experience at a Black Lives Matter protest.

Generation Change

MTV International was determined to celebrate the work of young activists despite the obstacles presented by the global pandemic. In its third year, “Generation Change,” a global social impact initiative that empowers young people that are driving change, went virtual to celebrate 20 youth activists from around the world. As part of our commitment to maintaining strong relationships with changemakers, we provide ongoing support and amplify their impactful messages through our platforms. In November, The MTV Europe Music Awards (EMA) awarded five remarkable women for their powerful work on the frontlines of racial and social justice. From Malaysia to Brazil, this inspiring group of young change agents is taking the world by storm.

Inspiring A Generation of Innovators with “Kid Of The Year”

For the first time ever, Nickelodeon and TIME partnered up for the “Kid of the Year” honor, an initiative that recognizes extraordinary young leaders who are making a positive impact in their communities. Following a nationwide search and over 5,000 inspirational nominations, five finalists were selected to receive a cash prize and the chance to serve as a Kid Reporter for TIME for Kids. The selected finalists have, among other things, grown food for those in crisis, designed better toys for kids with disabilities and started new conversations about racial justice. Fifteen-year-old scientist and inventor Gitanjali Rao stood out for her exceptional leadership. Rao researches scientific tools such as artificial intelligence and carbon nanotube sensor technology and applies them to problems she sees in everyday life, like cyberbullying and water contamination. As “Kid of the Year,” Rao hopes to show other kids how to tap into their curiosity to shift culture.

Celebrating Our Differences and Addressing Hate Head-on

Inclusion means everything, especially in a year like 2020. When we couldn’t gather in person, we sought new ways to bring our employees together virtually to celebrate our diversity and stand up for what we believe in.

  • For PRIDE month, we brought our employees together to celebrate virtually through a conversation around intersectionality, voting rights and protecting freedoms within the LGBTQ+ community.

  • In September, we held an event with the cast and executive producers of One Day at a Time, a comedy that follows three generations of a Cuban-American family, in honor of Hispanic Heritage month.

  • Asian American Media Professionals teamed up with #WashThe Hate and our Office of Global Inclusion for a virtual discussion on addressing xenophobia during a pandemic with David Henry Hwang, Catherine Haena Kim, Tzi Ma and Elaine Quijano.

  • We also held Inclusion Week, a global virtual celebration across our company featuring 240 speakers, with a theme of “Be You. Belong.

Read the 2020 ViacomCBS Social Impact Review here

View additional multimedia and more ESG storytelling from ViacomCBS on 3blmedia.com

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