How does one of the world’s premier entertainment brands engage its lawyers in pro bono? It does what comes naturally and combines the medium of television with the unique skills of its legal department and production staff to make a difference to those in need around the globe.
In 2006, Kenya adopted the Sexual Offences Act, designed to combat gender-based violence. For several years after its passage, implementation of the law proved difficult as the new rights and obligations were not well-understood. To increase public awareness of gender-based violence and the implications of the new law, the legal department of Viacom International Media Networks, a division of Viacom Inc.**, worked with the producers of its television program Shuga: Love, Sex, Money to incorporate important legal information into the storyline and leverage the program to educate the Kenyan community and viewers around the world.
The television show, which is shown on stations worldwide, is produced by MTV Networks Africa, The MTV Staying Alive Foundation and several other partners, and is part of a large multimedia campaign with a goal of achieving a generation free of HIV. During the show’s pre-production phase, Viacom worked with Shearman & Sterling*† and Lawyers Without Borders to research and analyze Kenyan case law so that they could then consult with the production team to structure a plotline regarding rape and draft materials for a public legal education campaign. The Shuga pro bono team included lawyers from offices throughout Europe and the U.S., who collaborated across borders with each other and with NGOs in Kenya to develop legal messaging that would be relevant and accessible to the Kenyan public.
The public education materials produced by the team were designed using the characters and storyline from the television program and aimed to increase public understanding of gender violence and raise awareness of the Sexual Offences Act. By identifying core messages for public education and drafting a resources section on sexual assault, content teams were able to effectively design a graphic novel and other non-traditional educational media using Shuga characters. The materials supplemented the television show so individuals unfamiliar with the program or without television could still access the information. In addition, a “toolkit” that includes additional resources is available to Shuga partners, who work in and around Kenya. The materials were made available online, marketed through the radio, referenced by lawyers and judges conducting trainings, and publicized through a Kenyan national newspaper, which ran the graphic novel as a serial.
This unique and innovative project dramatically expanded the impact of the pro bono work by partnering pro bono legal services with television and print media to spread legal education to an entire population. It is an excellent example of how a legal department is able to contribute its unique legal skills to the community service efforts of the company as a whole, as well as the company’s products and services, and make a tremendous difference in the communities in which they operate.
Viacom Executive Vice President, General Counsel & Secretary Michael D. Fricklas spoke about the pro bono efforts for Shuga and the potential impact of in-house pro bono at a recent meeting of in-house pro bono leaders in New York. Fricklas notes,
I couldn’t be more proud of the work our lawyers have done on the Shuga project. They have been working on the scripts, editing story lines and reaching millions of people. Given Viacom’s global footprint, international pro bono is a big piece of our overall pro bono efforts. This project was also particularly interesting because it allowed us to collaborate with, and leverage the expertise of, colleagues around the world. As a media company, we have to figure out what the right opportunities are and we are lucky we had this opportunity to do something that is a little different. Lawyers within every industry can find special projects that reflect their particular strengths.
The PBEye can’t wait to hear more about this team’s upcoming project in Nigeria, which focuses on domestic violence and gender violence.
* denotes Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge® signatory
† denotes a Member of the Law Firm Pro Bono Project
** denotes Corporate Pro Bono Challenge® signatory