Thursday, December 20, 2007

BET Execs to Blame for BET Uncut - Syreeta McNeal, CPA JD

Written by Syreeta McNeal, CPA JD

Catherine Pulsifer states that we should “fix the problem, not the blame.” As I viewed “Hip-Hop vs. America ” on Black Entertainment Television (BET) for the fifth time (no pun intended), I was excited to see people discussing and sharing their views without violence on important social issues. But, I realized one thing as I watched the show and contemplated why I incurred thousands of dollars in debt for a doctorate of law: why were no legal analysts participating on the round table? Not that I have a bias, but some of the issues that were discussed especially regarding BET Uncut were legal in nature and many of the participants did not have the expertise to adequately address the issue and formulate solutions that had previously been in practice since the 1980’s.

Many women advocates on the panel were taking the opportunity to express their resentment to Nelly for creating the “Tip Drill” video. As an African-American woman, I was offended by the notion that a black woman would allow a black man to swipe a credit card through her backside. I did not view this as “having fun” as Nelly mentioned on the panel because this display continues to make black women look like property to be sold on slavery blocks for sex. However, instead of just criticizing Nelly which has been done extensively, let’s take a look at why BET executives should not have run BET Uncut from October 6, 2001 until July 8, 2006, on its regular cable programming.

Background on Government Restriction on Cable Programming

Federal, state and local government have the right to regulate television programming that impacts the health, safety and welfare of its residents. With the advent of cable television in the 1980’s, government agencies wrestled with how to protect the health, safety and welfare of children while not infringing on the constitutional rights of adults to view pornography. One of the solutions implemented is to have adults pay an “extra fee” to watch shows displaying adult pornography on restricted channels. HBO’s Real Sex, Showtime’s The “L” Word, and the Playboy channel are examples of this programming restriction. Restricted access allows the cable industry to minimize youth purchasing and watching the adult programming. This form of restricted programming is effective because it acts as a proper balancing test of competing interests designed to ensure that constitutional rights for adults (e.g. adult pornography) are not infringed while simultaneously protecting health, safety and welfare of children.

Dilemma of BET Uncut Airing from October 6, 2001 until July 8, 2006

On “Hip-Hop vs. America” specials, many of the rappers stated that it is the responsibility of parents to protect what children should watch on television. To some extent that is true. However, as have been shown during the 1980’s debate regarding cable access to adult form of entertainment, leaving this battle for parents to fend does not ultimately minimize the potential negative impact to children. That is one of the reasons why you have the federal, state and local governments’ goal in regulating cable programming is to ensure that this balance is achieved. Now, I am wondering why BET executives (including legal counsel) did not show BET Uncut on subscription programming where adults could pay an extra fee to watch as they had done for shows like BET Jazz or BET Movies?

Cable television has evolved from being an exclusive programming purchased by wealthy consumers. As indicated by the change of Monday Night Football broadcasting from ABC to ESPN, more U.S. consumer households access regular cable programming. As a result, regular cable programming has become the new vehicle for the federal, state and local governments to regulate to ensure that programming does not negatively impact children.

BET Uncut is a racy form of adult pornography that features music videos. BET Uncut resembles programming like HBO’s Real Sex and the Playboy Channel. Like HBO’s Real Sex and the Playboy Channel, BET Uncut should have been aired on subscription programming. So it is puzzling to me that BET offered airing BET Uncut in the late hours of the evening on its regular cable programming. This was not a viable alternative especially since other programming like HBO’s Real Sex and Playboy channel had more restricted access. So, what BET executives should have done on October 6, 2001 was air BET Uncut on a subscription service as they had done for BET Jazz and BET Movies. This would allow adults like Nelly, 50 Cent, Ludacris and David Banner to get their “freak on” legally and simultaneously help parents, who have children who act like “Curious George”, minimize the risk of youth accidentally viewing adult programming. Much of the negative criticism from the black community to Nelly’s “Tip Drill” and other hip-hop artists’ videos would have been minimal because the impact to the black youth would have been lessened.

In business, we usually state that we do not want to “reinvent the wheel” because it breeds inefficiency and has people focusing on unproductive things. It seems like BET executives failed to execute this business motto. BET executives had historical precedent to show them how to properly balance the competing interests. I guess the need for press and ratings, whether it is morally, socially and legally questionable, allowed BET Uncut to stay on regular cable programming from October 6, 2001 until July 8, 2006. It seems like BET executives proved that smut sells and keeping BET Uncut on the air for that long, as well commercials for “Girls Gone Wild,” is the way to ensure that the balancing test designed to protect adults’ constitutional rights and the health, safety and welfare of children just laid to the wayside. U.S. Congresswoman Shelia Jackson Lee stated it best at the recent Jena 6 hearings, “shame on you.” BET executives (including legal counsel) could have avoided the backlash regarding BET Uncut by restricting the programming. People want to attack Nelly, Ludacris, 50 Cent, David Banner, and other rappers. They do deserve their portion of the blame. However, the real culprits in the BET Uncut duration are the BET executives (including legal counsel). BET executives are in charge of ensuring that there is a proper balance in protecting the welfare of programming suitable for children while allowing adults to get restricted access to adult entertainment. BET’s legal counsel is responsible for presenting an analysis of the 1980’s debate and solution crafted in regards to programming termed as adult pornography. Also, BET’s legal counsel should use the art of persuasion to reiterate that BET, like other cable programming, are bound by precedent and required to follow the solution crafted unless they can prove the solution they offer is the better alternative. The fact that BET Uncut suffered a significant backlash from the black community and BET ended its programming after almost a five year reign is proof that airing BET uncut on regular programming was not a better alternative. Also, with restricted access generated for BET Jazz and BET Movies, the financial burden of including BET Uncut under restricted programming appeared minimal. So, BET Uncut proved to do more harm than good and this could have been avoided if BET executives would have restricted its access.

Now, I don’t know what happened during the BET board meeting when the decision to air BET Uncut on regular cable was made. So, if BET’s legal counsel did show the legal precedent and analysis and the BET executives still decided to ignore the legal advice, shame on those other BET executives. But, if BET’s legal counsel did not present the legal precedent and analysis and just went with the flow to be what I consider solely a form over substance lawyer, then BET’s legal counsel deserves to suffer the same fate as “Brownie” because the controversy over BET Uncut could have been avoided. Now, the lingering impact of black youth thinking that it is okay to have a credit card swiped through a black woman’s backside is “having fun” is what our community has to seriously counter.

But, what is amazing is that the airing of BET Uncut occurred while the Bush Administration and “Do Nothing” Republican controlled U.S. Congress maintained regulation over cable programming. There Federal Communication Commission (FCC) was outraged after Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction at the Super Bowl XXXVIII’s halftime show. Where was the outrage from the FCC on the potential damage that BET Uncut did from October 6, 2001 to July 8, 2006 to the youth? Hmmmmm (tribute to Arsenio Hall), makes you think this form of degradation is not a coincidence from 2001 to 2006. Maybe, Kanye West’s statement after the Katrina disaster is right after all. “Bush doesn’t care about black people” because if he did the Bush Administration, through the FCC, would not display such an inconsistent treatment in regulating offensive programming. However, BET executives, you are still not off the hook. Shame on you for not following social and legal precedent as it comes to adult programming in your airing of BET Uncut!

This essay was submitted by Syreet McNeal, CPA JD

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think that the problem with the video "girls" is that we as women are allowing money to get in the way of our self respect. Nelly also states on the forum that it was the girls idea to swipe the card down her butt, we as women have got to stand up and not allow men and others to make a mockery of ourselves. you can be a vido girl and still have self respect. instead of putting the blame on the companies and artist we need to blame ourselves,women, becuase if all women stand up and say no they would not have a choice but to have a decent quality video.