BET’s President Explains Why She Doesn’t Offer More Positive Programming
by Dr. Boyce Watkins
Last fall, BET’s President, Debra Lee, commented on the style of programming being offered by her network and the response from her viewers. At the same time, Sheila Johnson, co-founder of BET,criticized the network for it’s offerings, stating that the company squandered a chance to give black America a voice. Lee and Johnson’s remarks open the door for an intriguing dialogue about the power of media to shape minds, and whether or not we’ve been using this power responsibly.
In an article on TheRoot.com, Sheryl Huggins Solomon asked if black people really want to have a voice at all. Her measuring stick of whether or not we want that voice appears to be related to our decision to watch the BET show hosted by TJ Holmes, “Don’t Sleep!” I became immediately concerned with Sheryl’s column, because it seemed to argue that it’s the audience’s fault that BET has become determined to produce toxic programming. Also, the idea of daring black people to support your event in order to prove their blackness is not much different from what Tavis Smiley did to President Obama back when he called him out for not attending his “State of the Black Union” event back in 2008.
At a screening for a new BET documentary, someone asked Lee if the network was going to aim for better programming, with Lee stating that, ”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.”
Dr. Boyce Watkins is the founder of the Your Black World Coalition. He is also the creator of the Building Outstanding Men and Boys Family Empowerment Series. To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.