Since premiering over 30 years ago, BET has been the home for programming catering to African-Americans. For better or for worse, BET has outlasted many of its naysayers and continues to be one of the only widely available networks to target African-American viewers.

Over the past decade, however, many have been very critical of the direction of the network. When the network ditched its news programming and amped up its music video shows, many were dismayed. Moreover, its critics argue that BET pedals degrading images of Blacks, rather than being a source of pride and positivity. Recently, one of its biggest naysayers have been BET’s co-founder, Shelia Johnson. In an interview, Johnson said she’s ashamed of the network and what it has become.

Despite what some may think, BET’s Chairman and CEO Debra Lee says the network is on the right track and its critics are virtually nonexistent.

“I think the criticism has gone away. The first thing I did, and this was in the works anyway, was to create more original programming that shows different images of women. So our sitcoms have started doing that. We’ve got more documentaries. We’re going to get into the drama business. We’ve cut back on the amount of music videos, that’s how we grew up but now we’re in a position where we can do other kinds programming.”

In an interview with Fox Business Channel, Lee discussed how she’s helped to grow the BET brand through its mobile and internet properties, as well as how she’s had to ‘say no’ to artists like Kanye West, Ciara, and Rihanna who push the envelope.

“As we worked on our brand and where I wanted to take the network, I started to say no to a lot of artists…I said no to Kanye [West] and to Ciara. Those are the ones that come to mind. I think Rihanna we’ve been working with. And that’s sort of amazed me a little bit, that I had to say no to women…but someone had to be the grownup in the room. I didn’t ask for that job but someone had to say no and looking at it from our young audience’s perspective.”

In spite of the criticism, BET has slowly been making progress. Gone are the bad-old-days of BET Uncut and lately, the network has been doing a (slightly) better job of promoting positive images with programming like Black Girls Rock, BET Honors, and BET’s Celebration of Gospel.

But have the critics totally disappeared as Debra Lee asserts?

What do you think? Is BET on the right track or should they be doing more to uplift African-Americans? Sound off!


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  • MNS

    I think BET has come a long way and hopefully will continue to improve. Sure it’s not perfect, but they are headed in the right direction.

  • Kim

    I completely disagree with Debra Lee. This ‘new programming’ has only created another outlet highlighting reality television and lack-luster music artists. How about saying a resounding no to Waka, instead of Ciara or Kanye?

    I remember when BET had the news segments, similar to the MTV News snips between commercials. Even the show w/ Tocarra wasn’t bad. Re-implanting and re-introducing news to the BET audience could actually be one of the best things BET could do in restructuring. Then, maybe kids would focus on issues beyond their street blocks, and maybe legal young adults would vote. The BET/MTV/CMT program with President Obama was priceless and a great mixture of urban programming with music and entertainment.

    Branding is all about package and approach. If BET would actually publicize and support the news initiatives as they do 106th and Park, they probably would have great support. Perhaps, then, they could return to the individuality and innovation they once had. And when she referenced “original programming to show different images of women” I hope she’s not referring to episodes of “Tiny & Toya,” etc.

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