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Step Your Game Up - BET: Bad Ethnic Television

By Steven Gaither
On November 13, 2006

Twenty-six years ago, a young black businessman from Washington, D.C., named Robert Johnson bought airtime at a local station.

It was from those meager beginnings that America 's first blackowned and oriented network, Black Entertainment Television, emerged. Starting a year before MTV, Johnson's network was groundbreaking.

Today, however, that ground has sunken to a new low.

In the past few years, BET has put less emphasis on uplifting and educational programs, and more emphasis on music videos and reality shows. In the past, shows such as "Teen Summit"and "BET News" focused on serious issues affecting the black community.

Today, the network relies heavily on music videos. On a typical day, asmuch as one-third of the programming is dedicated to music videos on BET. Many of these music videos center around scantily clad African-American women, gyrating in front of the camera. And they are shown on the network over, and over again.

Another trend that the network has moved toward in recent years is the increased production of reality shows. The problem is not so much with the reality shows themselves, as it is with their content. This season the network added the weekly series "Beef" to its programming. The show, which began as a bootleg DVD, centers on conflicts, or "beefs," between celebrities.

Why would the network spend programming time on a show that centers on such negative themes?

Marilyn Roseboro, associate professor of Mass Communications at Winston-Salem State, says that she finds the content on BET "offensive, both personally and professionally."

I could not agree more. With the majority of the other networks' reinforcing negative stereotypes about African-Americans, you would think that BET would do its best to present a more wellrounded image of black people. BET, which Johnson sold to Viacom in 2000, has failed us in this regard, choosing to sacrifice integrity for ratings.

Like it or not, BET has a responsibility to African-Americans, no matter who is in charge. I'm not saying that it needs to become a black PBS, but it shouldn't be a minstrel show, either.

"I'd like to see balance," Roseboro said. "When that's all you give, the audience either goes away or embraces that."

Black people are more than Neanderthals that love to dance and fight amongst themselves. Step your game up, BET, and give us a reason to tune in.

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