BET Networks has endured an onslaught of criticism about the nature of its programming. Shows like “BET’s Uncut” and even “Hip Hop Awards,” with the violence that accompanies it, have undermined the network’s alleged mission to portray African-Americans in a positive light. Co-founder Sheila Johnson spoke recently about her disapproval of the programming on the channel, focusing attention on positive shows she worked on like “Teen Summit” and conveniently ignoring “BET’s Uncut” which also aired under her leadership. Johnson joins a long list of critics who have been vocal about their dissatisfaction with the network.

The current CEO, Debra Lee, seemed to address that criticism at a screening of the network’s documentary on President Barack Obama, “Second Coming? Will Black America Decide the 2012 Election” which airs tonight at 9P/8C. She said:

“Over the 28 years I’ve been at BET, we’ve tried different shows, series and nightly news, and it’s always a matter of what are people going to show up to watch. We started a new show last week called Don’t Sleep! With T.J. Holmes, which is supposed to address these kinds of issues. It’s designed to be a mix of entertainment and news and commentary. We hoped it would have been a Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert-type show […]. To be honest, the ratings haven’t been great in the past two weeks (referring to Holmes’ show). Our audience always says they want this kind of programming, but they don’t show up.”

It’s interesting that Debra Lee would place some degree of responsibility on the audience for the type of content that appears on BET. Surely, the network should hold more accountability for the messages that they send to viewers.

At the same time, the TV audience does hold considerable power. It’s clear that the best way to fight negative stereotypes of black women on shows like VH1’s “Basketball Wives” and “Love & Hip Hop: Atlanta,” for example, is to simply stop tuning into those programs. If more people watched positive programming on BET, would the network embrace it more? What are your thoughts on Debra Lee’s statement, Clutchettes?

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