BET; a missed opportunity for cultural advancement in Black America

By Nobel Johns

obert Johnson has been called an industry pioneer after he launched BET (Black Entertainment Television) in 1980 and sold it to Viacom in 2001 for nearly $3 billion, a deal that sealed his status as the country's first Black billionaire. Today the BET network, of which he's still CEO, reaches more than 71.9 million households. Johnson's latest goal: to acquire an NBA team, but he lost out on the Charlotte Hornets in March. Johnson’s for the past two decades squandered the potential of America’s first Black massed media and turned it into a void of any intellectual existence. It's a fact that he only paid the FCC $2500 for the license to have a Black network on cable television, for the public good, but BET has done nothing to advance the public good in the Black community.

Johnson didn’t have the money to buy the license in the first place, after being given the big break, but he borrowed the money from hid sister and as they say, the rest is history. From that break, getting the license for only $2500, any Nigger could have made it from there, and done a better job than Johnson in TV programing; this fool is more interested in owning a professional basketball team that trying to help advance Black culture through the air waves. He lost out on the Charlotte Hornets in March, and his life long dream of owning a NBA basketball team is dashed.

Now BET has canceled its ``Nightly News,'' saying it instead will offer news briefs throughout the day, specials about newsworthy events and an urban affairs show, ``The Cousin Jeff Chronicles,'' that will run four times a year. Robert Johnson, founder of the leading cable channel for black viewers, said the change does not represent a lessening of BET's news commitment. He said it would improve how BET offers news.

``With 24-hour news networks and everyone getting news off the Internet, our audience doesn't want to wait until 11 p.m. to find out what the news is,'' said Debra Lee, BET president and chief operating officer. As its executives explained in a sales presentation to advertisers in New York on Tuesday, BET's focus is reaching black viewers aged 18-to-34 with music programming as its primary focus. Lee said it had not been decided what would replace ``BET Nightly News'' when it ends this summer.

The decision comes after BET canceled other public affairs programming such as ``Lead Story'' (now replicated by host Ed Gordon on National Public Radio) and ``Teen Summit'' in recent years, noted Richard Prince, who writes the ``Journal-isms'' online column for the Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education.

BET also fired ``BET Tonight'' host Tavis Smiley in 2001 following a dispute about Smiley offering a newsworthy interview to ABC instead of BET. The reason he fired Tavis is that he has an inferiority complex and can’t stand to be around anyone that knows more that he does. The fool fail to realized that he will never surround himself with the best and brightest because most dumb, people are smarter that him.

``What can you say?'' Prince said. ``I guess one could sigh. But that hasn't done much in the past.''

If the hourly news briefs are done well and manage to reach more people than the half-hour newscast does, it could be a good thing, he said.

But BET has to overcome the perception that it marginalizes its news and public affairs responsibilities, he said, and it's especially crucial that BET's young viewers learn the importance of news and public affairs.

Lee said that ``hopefully people will work with us and we'll find a way of doing the news in a way that works.''

BET is owned by media conglomerate Viacom Inc., whose other properties include CBS, MTV, Paramount Pictures and Infinity Broadcasting. In trading Tuesday, Viacom shares rose 10 cents to finish at $34.80 on the New York Stock Exchange.

Back to home page