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Robert L. Johnson, the visionary behind the nation’s first black-oriented cable TV network, Black Entertainment Television (BET).

  • This network was launched January 25, 1980
  • In 1991, the network became the first black-controlled company on the New York Stock Exchange.
  • In 2003, the network was no longer a black owned business when it was bought by media conglomerate Viacom for $3 billion.
  • In 2005, Johnson retired from the network and the network was taken over by Debra Lee, former Vice President.
  • March 31, 2011  According to the Nielsen Company, BET finished the quarter with an average of 546,000 total viewers and posted year-over-year gains, making it the highest performing quarter among viewers in network history.
  •  Viewed in 90 million homes worldwide and an estimated annual revenue of 17.3 Billion dollars
  • Target Audience African-Americans ages 18-49

There has been a lot of debate on whether this network  has been helping or hurting the black community?


A lot of viewers feel that network is actually hurting the black community instead helping it. The negative images being displayed on the network are  perpetuating negative stereotypes of both men and women of color. The network has been really criticized for displaying derogatory images of minorities, especially African-American women.  The images of women in revealing clothing on the Network are negatively affecting the young women of color who watch the programming. Young women and girls now want to emulate the dress they see in the in the videos. Aside from these programs being a negative influence on the black community it is also providing viewers with false images of African-Americans.


The viewers are not the only one who has something to say about current state of the BET Network. Creator of the Aaron McGruder the creator of Boondocks said in the introduction on a DVD series, that he went after BET  in one of his episodes on Boondocks “because network executives, in his view, failed to elevate the network’s standards” something that BET president of Entertainment Reginald Hudlin had pointedly promised to do when joining the network in 2005 after Johnson retired.

In a 2010 interview, BET co-founder Shelia Johnson said she was “ashamed” of what the network has become. Johnson said that she even told her children not to watch the network . She said “When we started BET, it was going to be the Ebony magazine on television. We had public affairs programming. We had news”. The critics today say  that BET portrayed African Americans in the worst possible way and I really agree.  The network currently does not have a good balance of programming of shows.  They have more music videos that degrade women and African Americans as whole than that of positive programming. Most of the programming is centered around music. In these music videos 

Follow Up Questions/ Concerns: I am interested to see what strides the BET network is making towards changing network?  I am also interested in exploring positive programming, if any that BET might still currently have on their network. I want to also look deeper at the images that are available of African Americans on BET and how Africans Americans are represented.

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STRIVES IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION:

The BET network has faced a lot of criticism from viewers about the type of programming currently airing on the network. Many viewers felt that network was primarily airing music videos, which a lot of people felt were derogatory towards women. BET has taken all of the criticisms and decided to make some changes. BET has started BET Honors to shine a light on people doing great things in the community and Black Girls Rock!, which is basically an all-women show.  The Network  programming currently implemented a filter: It has to have a message, can’t be derogatory and has to show positive images. This does not mean that it’s unreal or fake.  According to Debra Lee “We’re not going to be the PBS of black television. We still have to get ratings.”

Black Girls Rock is a non-profit mentoring and youth empowerment organization that was established to promote the arts for young women of color. Founded by Beverly Bond in 2006, the group also encourages an analysis and dialogue  of the ways women of color are portrayed in the media. It is more than just a slogan!

BLACK GIRLS ROCK! INC.’s  really tries to encourage positive, life-changing activity and critical thinking through the arts for “at risk” teenage women of color. The program also helps to foster the dreams of teenage women of a better tomorrow without comprising their integrity and self-worth today.

BLACKGIRLSROCK is aired on the BET network as an award show. ” The night was filled with great performances, great speeches and great women who rock!”

Black Girls Rock isn’t your typical award show. During the airing of the award night there wasn’t any big feature film clip and the world didn’t see the top movie stars. Instead it was all about women empowerment.The second annual Black Girls Rock show on BET was an opportunity to pay tribute to powerful African American women who make a difference in our communities and show the younger women looking for empowering role models exactly how it can be done.


The BET Honors Award Show was established in 2008 by the BET network to celebrate the lives and achievements of African-American luminaries. The awards will be presented annually and broadcast on BET during Black History Month. The Award show designed to recognize lifetime contributions and service to African-American culture by honoring achievements of black legends in music, arts, service and education.

With Programs like Black Girls Rock and BET Honors the Black Entertainment Network (BET) is making positive strides to providing its audience with more positive programming. Through programs like these BET is really highlighting the positives of the African-American community. It is providing viewers with both entertainment through performances but also educated the viewers on influential and powerful African-American leaders. I think both these programs showcase black empowerment and show positive images of people of color.  I think if the BET network continues to give viewers more programs like these it would attract a larger audience and help to the negative images of people of color already in media. These types of programs offered a taste of the network’s potential.

Follow up Questions/ Concerns: I am interested in learning more about the past programs that have  been on the network. I am interested to see at what point did the network move away from its original mission.  I want to know what changes have been made to networks programming after it was bought by Viacom.

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Democratic Principles

There are several ethical and democratic principles/values that I think should guide the entertainment industries. I think choice should be a democratic value added to the entertainment industry. African-Americans should have choice of how they are represented and portrayed through the media. Voice is another democratic value that should guide this industry. If people disagree strongly about the images being displayed of them they should be able to voice their concerns and feelings about the issue. Change is another democratic principle that should guide this industry. If people do not like how they are being portrayed they should have the opportunity to change it especially if does not hurt anyone. They should also be provided the equal rights. They should have the right to suggest these changes in order to this negative stereotypes being displayed constantly on through this network.

I think the Black Entertainment Television (BET) network would look really different if it was solely guided by democratic principles. The network would have much more positive programming. Their would be programming that uplifted the African-American community and brought them together. Negative images of African-American Community would not be displayed on national television. This network would showcase the African-Americans in a much better light. It would be used to help break the stereotypes that already currently exist.

BET currently helps the continuation of perpetuating negative stereotypes of people of color. If the network was solely guided by democratic principles there would no longer be women dancing in these hip hop and rap videos wearing little to no clothes and gyrating. The music would no longer mainly consistent of men rapping about drugs, gangs and degrading women. Music can still be a dominated piece of this network but music would be used to showcase people of color in a positive way. It would showcase their many talents both through the arts but in other fields as well.

BET is really a network that guides how other races view the African-American community. So far the power of the network has only been used in negative ways by perpetuating negative stereotypes of African-Americans. If we used ethical and democratic principles to guide this industry we could then change the way people view the African-American community. These new principles would teach the audience that African Americans are more than what you see on television. It would really force the viewers see the African-American in a new light from what they were normally exposed to. If this industry was solely guided by democratic and ethical principles it would really change the way other people look at the black community as well as how the African-American community looks at each other. With these changes it would bring everyone together and help break the sterotypes that the entertainment industry keeps building up.

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