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Viacom cut programming for 17 minutes in solidarity with school walkout

The company is entering the movement against gun violence in a big way.

Nikki Windland via Twitter

As thousands of students across the country walked out of class Wednesday to protest gun violence, Viacom Media Networks suspended programming to major TV channels in solidarity.

All Viacom networks — including MTV, BET, Nickelodeon, TV Land, CMT, and Comedy Central — went offline for 17 minutes around 10 am EST, when the National School Walkout officially began.

The company posted a video on its Twitter saying that it “stands with all students as they participate in the national school walkout against gun violence.”

While some channels aired a simple message of support, on MTV, the names and pictures of young activists affected by gun violence appeared silently onscreen.

Viacom has jumped into the gun control debate in a major way, planning to raise awareness through its channels for the March for Our Lives event scheduled to take place in Washington, DC, on March 24, though there’s no word yet on what that awareness-raising will look like.

MTV has urged teens to get involved in politics for decades, including partnerships with Rock the Vote, and the channel has set up a website where people can learn how to take further action. Comedy Central was the home of Jon Stewart’s Daily Show and Stephen Colbert’s Colbert Report.

But the participation of CMT (Country Music Television) is more unusual. The country music industry has been reluctant to confront the issue of gun control, even after the mass shooting at a country music festival in Las Vegas in late 2017 that left 58 people dead. The National Rifle Association has partnered with the country music artists as part of its NRA Country initiative. Some artists have begun to speak out about gun violence, but “there’s not going to be a corporate radio artist singing about gun control,” Nashville singer-songwriter Will Hoge, the author of a protest song supporting gun control, told Rolling Stone in 2017.

Still, the channel went dark at 10 am Wednesday, and Viacom announced it will work with the country music industry on its efforts to support gun safety.

The vice chair of Viacom’s board, Shari Redstone, is personally donating $500,000 to the March for Our Lives movement.

A post on Viacom’s blog says that the company has a “long history of supporting young people’s movements around the world.”

“Today the company is extending that tradition by leveraging its substantial multi-platform footprint to support these extraordinary individuals and amplify the reach and impact of their activism,” the post continues. In plain English: The company is using its massive reach into American households to spread the student activists’ message even further.