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   NATIONAL NEWS
BET to End Nightly Newscast
By: Hazel Trice Edney
NNPA Washington Correspondent
Originally posted 4/19/2005


WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Black Entertainment Television has axed its only remaining public affairs program, BET Nightly News, landing another blow to the nation’s Black news and information sources.

“People had been hopeful that there would be some shred of information relevant to the Black community left on BET,” says Ron Daniels, executive director of the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights. “But clearly there is more of an emphasis on entertainment than education. This is a tragic loss and not a very hopeful sign.”

BET President and Chief Operating Officer Debra L. Lee announced the programming change last week, saying the network will revert to hourly news updates throughout the day instead of one set program in the evening.

“Strategically, this new approach strengthens our news product by responding directly to the changing needs and preferences of BET viewers,” says Lee in a press statement. “When combined with plans to expand our news specials, we’ll have news programming that’s fast, flexible, accessible and timely. There are other news coverage options at our disposal which we’re also considering, including the possibility of a weekend news magazine or analysis show.”

BET Founder and CEO Robert L. Johnson, who has undergone much criticism after the cutting of other news-oriented programming, was quick to explain the new program format.

“News and Public Affairs have always been historically important parts of the BET lineup, and have earned numerous awards over the years. But it’s now time to enhance our delivery of that product in a way that’s more engaging,” he said in a statement. “By no means is this a lessening of our news commitment, but instead an improvement of our overall news offering.”

What BET officials are calling a “new approach” is actually an old one that BET used in the 1990.

BET viewers see the new format, set to start this summer, as a continued dismantling of substantive programs for Black viewers that started with the cutting of “Lead Story,” “BET Tonight” and “Teen Summit,” all in late 2002. BET Nightly News was the last major news source to leave the station since BET was purchased by Viacom, one of the largest global media empires, in 2000.

However, Johnson and Lee have repeatedly stated that program decisions have been made by them, not Viacom.

“I wasn’t surprised,” says Ed Gordon, former host of BET’s “Lead Story” and now host of “News and Notes with Ed Gordon,” aired each weekday on National Public Radio. “I think that the news show had been diluted over the years and the show that they produce now, while all of the people were very hard-working and well-intentioned at putting out a good show, I don’t think that they were given the wherewithal to do the kind of news show that really was servicing Black America as it should have, but they did the best that they could do. It was never given the resources to be able to garner stories from across the country. Our fight was always to try to get more money and the news was a very costly venture.”

Despite the planned periodic updates, whenever a major news program is lost, it leaves a void, Gordon says.

“It was an important vehicle, much like Jet Magazine. There are stories that if you don’t pick up Jet or if you don’t tune into BET Nightly News that you just wouldn’t see anywhere else. And I’m not sure you’re going to see that vehicle again for a while.
The answer is to push for more Black –owned and controlled media, says Gordon.

“Black America has to be realistic about where we are and stop being satisfied with one,” he says. “We were satisfied that BET Nightly News was there, yet we weren’t demanding more of a Black perspective from anywhere else. So, what happens is when that one goes away, then you’re left with nothing.”

Donna Brazile, a political strategist and regular commentator on CNN, says the news aspect of BET is important, but sees the cut as an opportunity for other Black community new sources to be marketed and used.

''It's a sad commentary to see BET's Nightly News Show bite the dust. I hope they find time in their entertainment line-up to inform their audience of what's happening in the news … It's a major loss for those of us who view BET as speaking with an authentic voice,'' Brazile says.

A subsidiary of Viacom, Inc. BET markets itself as “the nation’s leading television network providing quality entertainment, music, news and public affairs programming for the African-American audience.

It reaches more than 80 million households according to Nielsen media research. However, some have also viewed the reduction of the news and public service content as more of an emphasis on its musical entertainment, which often features near public nudity, programming pitched to youth.

“It seems that the drive, which is an understandable drive, to be profitable, supercedes the need for information,” Daniels says. “This is a part of the larger problem of the conglomeraterization of media and the homogenization of media,” he says. “You have such huge monopolies that it’s hard for Black people to break into television, period. There are big interests that control the electronic media.”



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