Original BET co-founder, Sheila Johnson, is apparently still disgusted by what the network has become since she and her now-ex-husband sold it to Viacom for over $1 billion dollars in 2000.
Johnson spoke to the audience at the Carmel Art and Film Festival in Monterey County, California this past weekend saying that the network she co-founded in 1980 currently “reinforces negative stereotypes of young people, African-Americans in particular.” She continued to slam the network, stating: “I think we squandered a really important cable network, when it really could have been the voice of Black America. We’re losing our voice as a race as a result. I’m really worried about what our young people are watching. There are so many young people who are using the television as a babysitter. We have parents who are not being parents and not monitoring what their children are watching.”
In 2010, when asked about the network she stated: “Don’t even get me started. 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. Society and government really believe [the AIDS] problem has gone away. People don’t know that this disease is still around.” She went on to reveal the purpose of BET when she and her now-ex-husband initially launched it. “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.”
At the time of the interview, Johnson said she had no connection with the network and offered all networks a bit of advice. “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.’”
When Sheila and her husband-at-the-time Robert Johnson owned the network, the racy “BET Uncut” music video series would broadcast late in the evening.