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National News

HIV-Positive Muppet Not for United States, PBS Says

July 17, 2002

Public Broadcasting Services President Pat Mitchell sent a letter to a group of concerned lawmakers Tuesday assuring them that no public funding is going toward the introduction of an HIV-positive Muppet in the South African production of the children's show "Sesame Street." She also reiterated that there are no plans to introduce a similar character in the United States. Mitchell was responding to a letter from House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair W.J. "Billy" Tauzin (R-La.) and five members of the committee, which has budgetary oversight of public broadcasting.

Tauzin's letter, sent late Friday, expressed concern that the character is inappropriate for the show's two- to four-year-old viewers. Tauzin's office got involved after an executive at Sesame Workshop, the show's producer, was quoted as saying the HIV-positive character developed for South Africa's "Takalani Sesame" might appear in the US version of "Sesame Street." Mitchell pointed out in her letter that Tauzin's staff was notified, the day his letter went out, that the character would not join the US show. An aide to Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), who also signed the letter, said, "Our concern really lies with the target audience of 'Sesame Street.'" Committee Democrats, however, rallied to the support of PBS. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said it was inappropriate for members of Congress to get involved in "day-to-day decisions on content" of PBS shows.

In her letter, Mitchell said PBS "has no relationship with Sesame Workshop regarding its South African programming." Sesame Workshop official Robert Knezevic said that each country's co-production does its own research and would have to decide independently about the character. Sesame Workshop was initially reluctant to develop the character for South Africa because it had not conducted appropriate research, Knezevic said, but production partners -- including the South Africa Department of Education, national broadcaster SABC, a corporate sponsor and the US Agency for International Development -- insisted that it would serve a need. The new female Muppet, which does not yet have a name, will debut Sept. 30.

Back to other CDC news for July 17, 2002

Previous Updates

Adapted from:
Los Angeles Times
07.17.02; Elizabeth Jensen; Lisa Fackler

This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
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