Black Entertainment Television did not broadcast the 20th anniversary commemoration of Million Man March. A few days later, the television network broadcasted its annual BET Hip Hop Awards show to 1 million fewer viewers than the previous year.
According to the Nielsen data, the award show garnered 2.9 million viewers last year but only 1.9 million this year. Some believed that the network’s viewership suffered because of the decision not to air the monumental event. Plans to boycott the award show quickly spread throughout social media.
Many voiced their disappointment about a network designed for Black people not televising the 20th anniversary of hundreds of thousands of people of color coming together to demand justice.
Mainstream news organizations also did not show the event and gave it very little mention during regular news programming. When there are riots, they are televised. When there are shootings, they are televised. When there is any type of controversy, it is televised. Where are the camera crews and reporters when there is peace? Yes, it is true that BET is not a news channel. But some exceptions should be made, especially for a network able to reach, according to their website, 90 million households and that has a target audience of African-American adults between the ages of 18 and 49. That is a huge responsibility.
It was BET’s moment to break away from the pack and share with the world what was going on in Washington, D.C. It was a peaceful gathering, and Minister Louis Farrakhan had a message of unity and taking action against a system that continues to deprive Black people of justice. It’s a message that could have reached many more than those who gathered if the event had been televised.
For those who had long abandoned the idea of BET being the symbol of quality television for the African-American community, the lack of attention the network gave the rally was no surprise. After being sold to white-owned Viacom, BET has wavered in its overall ability to produce content that encourages the public to recognize African-Americans as an important and intelligent audience. Perhaps televising an event that showed “minorities” coming together, raising awareness and exercising their freedom of speech to tell the world that they are tired of being murdered and vilified was not in the best interest of BET’s new owners.
Here is a list of some of the shows that the BET deemed more crucial than the Million Man March anniversary for its viewers to see on Oct 10, 2015: reruns of the shows “Scandal,” “The Jamie Foxx Show,” “Fresh Prince of Bel Air” and “Martin”; the 2014 BET Hip Hop Awards; and the movies “National Security” (which aired twice) and “Black Knight.”
At this time, more than ever, during what seems like open season on Black lives, we need the E in BET to also represent education, not just entertainment.
A representative for BET did not respond to a request for comment.