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Fight BET

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It makes sense to go after the biggest target you can find if you’re trying to make a point. That’s what the Reverend Delman L. Coates did when he took his campaign against corporate sponsorship of lyrics and images that sexually objectify women and stereotype Black and Latino men to the home of Black Entertainment Television’s CEO Debra L. Lee and Viacom’s CEO Philippe Dauman.

Read what the 35-year-old Maryland minister told Essence special correspondent Roland S. Martin about fighting the media giant. Read the entire interview in the January issue on newsstands now.

Essence: There are parents who pay for cable service. If they’re saying, “I don’t have a problem listening or watching,” what do you make of that?

Coates: Artists cannot get on these records and make songs that degrade and demean and offend the Jewish community. They can’t make songs that offend the gay and lesbian community. Kanye West in 2004 released the song “All Falls Down,” in which there was a lyric that says “drug dealer buy Jordans, crackhead buy crack, and a White man get paid off all of that.” MTV bleeped or revised the phrase to leave out the part about “a White man,” but they left in the other portions.

Essence: Clearly, protesting, freedom of expression and freedom to assemble are all protected rights. But how would you feel if someone were protesting outside your home?

Coates: Some of the same African-Americans who may be raising concerns about the location of our D.C. rallies are the same ones who supported Cindy Sheehan’s right to rally outside the President’s ranch so she could raise her concerns about the Bush war policy.

Essence: But Bush is an elected official. A company CEO isn’t.

Coates: The reason we felt the need to resort to this is because people have been speaking out about misogyny, lyrics and messages that glorify violence with the executives of BET for years. Whenever people would meet with the leadership, whether it was the former leadership or the current leadership, the response was, “I’m not a social activist. I’m an entrepreneur.”

Essence: What has been the response thus far from BET, and specifically Debra Lee, to these protests?

Coates: After the first week of the rally, we had a meeting with Ms. Lee in which she shared her mission to expand the programming on the network. She said the videos represent 20 percent of the programming, which is a tremendous reduction from what it used to be. And she talked about how they’re developing new shows. I think that’s fine. The only thing is our campaign isn’t about programming. Our campaign is about offensive content.

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