Sheila Johnson, the co founder, with her husband Bob, of BET (Black Entertainment Television) over thirty years ago, has told of her ‘shame’ at the state of the channel today.
The Johnsons started BET with $15,000 in seed money and a $500,000 investment from media mogul John Malone. The pair sold the channel to Viacom in 2000 for $1.3 billion (£855 million) making them the United States’ first African-American billionaires.
Johnson told the online news network The Daily Beast: “I don’t watch it. I suggest to my kids that they don’t watch it… I’m ashamed of it, if you want to know the truth.”
She even went as far as to blame sexually charged music videos on BET for contributing to the spread of HIV/AIDS.
“When we started BET, it was going to be the Ebony magazine on television,” she said.
“We had public affairs programming. We had news… I had a show called Teen Summit, we had a large variety of programming, but the problem is that then the video revolution started up… And then something started happening, and I didn’t like it at all. And I remember during those days we would sit up and watch these videos and decide which ones were going on and which ones were not. We got a lot of backlash from recording artists… and we had to start showing them. I didn’t like the way women were being portrayed in these videos.”
She added: “I just really wish—and not just BET but a lot of television programming—that they would stop lowering the bar so far just so they can get eyeballs to the screen,” she said. “I know they think that’s what’s going to keep programming on the air; that’s what’s going to sell advertising. But there has got to be some responsibility. Somebody has got to take this over. Because with all the studies that are out there, this is contributing to an atmosphere of free sex, ‘I don’t have to protect myself anymore.’”
Johnson recently financed a documentary, The Other City, about the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the US.
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