Dear BET and Parent Company Viacom:
It is with great regret and deep sadness that I write this letter and open public plea to our number one network for African-Americans that being Black Entertainment Television, i.e., BET, recently purchased by media giant VIACOM.
During the last six days, since the crisis of Hurricane Katrina, the BET Network has operated under business as usual and a slight reference to a benefit concert nearly 10 days after the storm?
Folks, we need media coverage from BET now, today, hour-to-hour, 24-7, day-in-and-day-out!
If we are going to blast President George W. Bush for conducting business as usual, and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) head Michael Brown for not moving fast enough, we have to hold ourselves just as accountable and look at whether BET is moving too slowly and conducting "business as usual."
I love BET, but given this catastrophe and the aftermath affecting people that look like me, I had to make this last minute desperate and urgent plea to BET and out-going Chairman/owner Mr. Bob Johnson, BET Program Executive Stephen Hill and the new Viacom leadership (which owns BET) and/or anyone else in charge at the network.
My humble and passionate request: shutdown regular programming and go live with Ed Gordon, Michelle Miller, Jacque Reid or ANYONE to encourage, guide, inform, update, locate, inspire and FIND our missing, displaced, broken and scattered black people. The network can also help those of us around the country in a concerted, organized campaign to feed, house and clothe the disenfranchised.
Our people are dying by the thousands daily in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and most likely even in Houston after removal from the disaster areas due to poor health, infections and the heat, among other factors.
CNN, MSNBC, FOX, ABC and other networks are providing daily, 24-hour coverage, but the very network that we love, which is supposed to represent us is still running Comic View, 106 & Park, Access Granted, my beloved Bobby Jones Gospel show and other black programming in reruns.
For example, as I write this letter on Sunday afternoon, September 4, 2005, the BET network is airing reruns of the Stellar Awards, Access Granted, the 100th re-broadcast and airing of the 2005 BET Awards, seemingly in a 'business as usual' programming schedule. The Awards show is great, but we need to turn off the entertainment and deal with humanity.
Please, I beg you BET and Viacom, go live with your broadcast from New Orleans, Gulfport, Mobile, Biloxi, or somewhere in the damaged disastrous areas and galvanize our people, instruct our people and again help our people find each other. As a black network, this is the most responsible thing you can do at this critical hour.
Specifically, we need the BET Network to be a source of direction, a pivotal point for the organization of relief efforts, helpful websites, monetary contributions, benefit concerts, and most importantly, a communication source for our brothers and sisters in the disaster to find their relatives and locate each other.
And, indeed I realize a BET benefit concert Friday, September 9, 2005, is a great effort, but more action and information is needed now and we don't have 5 days.
You have networks like Fox with Geraldo, Greta Van Sustern, and Bill O'Reilly connecting displaced families with rescuers and family members.
You have CNN with Larry King hosting three hours specials, and ABC's Ted Koppell calling leaders to action and on the carpet. I am certain if the top brass at BET organized, our black staff reporters would do the same and have even more compassion and help the cause.
Again, I regret to write this email, but as an African-American, and long-term viewer of BET, it is imperative that we hold you accountable during this crisis which is adversely affecting our people with the same standard we are holding the other outlets and leaders.
Please cancel all programming, get a crew down there, and Shoot! I'll even leave my job and volunteer to help you, if necessary, and bring my staff with me to help organize our efforts.
History will look back at Bob Johnson and the BET Family and network and ask: Where were you? What did you do as a responsible media outlet? Did you help people or do business as usual?
Right now, the sad message you are sending is: it's Business as usual!!!
James L. Walker, Jr., Esq.