BET Pulls Controversial Section From Web Site

BET has removed a section of its Web site that offered photos of women in seductive poses, clad in bikinis and lingerie. Before its removal last week, the "B-Girls" section had been a long-time staple of BET.com, and retained a prominent position as the site was re-launched last fall.

Viacom network BET says the withdrawal of the section was part of a plan set in motion last fall. However, an activist who launched a campaign targeting "B-Girls" advertisers--just days before the section was removed--says that an advertiser protest led to BET's decision.

The "B-Girls" section encouraged women to send in appealing photos of themselves, with many featuring them in risqué clothing and suggestive poses. The photos were sometimes accompanied by a listing of bust-waist-hips measurements.

The "B-Girls" content is unrelated to any of BET's on-air programming. It was simply intended to boost traffic and interest for the Web site, BET says.

Early last fall, BET.com underwent a redesign. A "B-Girls" link was displayed on the "drop-down" menu that stretched across the home page. Users who visited the photos were given the option of transferring them to their personal sites, along with Facebook and MySpace pages.

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Ad banners for the likes of McDonald's, the U.S. Army, General Mills and Kraft ran on the "B-Girls" page.

Some debate remains about whether any advertiser backlash about the "B-Girls" content led BET to pull it down. Gina McCauley, who runs a blog that seeks to combat negative images of African-American women, launched a campaign Jan. 10 encouraging women to call and write advertisers to complain about their presence.

By last week, "B-Girls" was gone. In a statement, BET said: "The move was unrelated to the blogger protests or any advertiser feedback of which there was none."

BET said the link on the "drop-down menu" was removed in November, and the content had not been updated in several months. Also, the network said the removal was planned as part of an ongoing upgrade to BET.com, as it "has been evolving into an even stronger site."

But McCauley claims her campaign persuaded one or more advertisers--she isn't sure which--to contact BET, and that led to the network dropping the section. "This is just one small glimpse of what black women, and the men who care about them, can do if we open up our mouths to the right people," she wrote on WhatAboutOurDaughters.org last Thursday.

A representative for Kraft told the Chicago Sun-Times that the company's ad should not have been on the page when it ran last fall, calling it an "unfortunate juxtaposition." But a McDonald's representative told the paper that the company had no issue. "Different demographics and different audiences want to be communicated to in different ways, and we believe the content reaches the young adult audience that it is intended to reach," Danya Proud of McDonald's was quoted as saying.

The Kraft representative added that the company's ad was placed on the "B-Girls" page as part of a larger ad buy. Some advertisers could have made deals with ad networks selling inventory whereby they don't necessarily know where their ads run.

Attempts to contact advertisers were unsuccessful Monday during the holiday.

BET has not moved away entirely from displaying photos of women in seductive poses on BET.com. A section called "Shine" offers photos of women--and men--that site visitors can rank. Some women appear in bikinis, while others show off their backsides--although there are other photos that some might consider more tasteful. Women and men can offer their e-mail addresses for people to write to them as a social networking function.

Advertisers with banners appearing on "Shine" include KFC, Chrysler, ChicagoTribune.com and Universal Studios. BET does offer visitors the opportunity to mark images as "offensive, copywritten or broken."

Jeanine Liburd said the photos are not dissimilar to what a contestant might wear on the CW network's "America's Next Top Model," among other outlets.

"The content is not inappropriate," she said. "A black woman in her bathing suit is no different than what you would find on SportsIllustrated.com. It is not limited to black women in their bathing suits. It's more about men and women's personal style."

SportsIllustrated.com includes a section related to the magazine's annual "Swimsuit" issue.

Activist blogger McCauley, an attorney, said she did not contact BET before asking her readers to contact advertisers. She has criticized BET before for airing programming she deems demeaning to African-Americans.

BET has long been criticized for airing music videos that allegedly glorify negative stereotypes. But recently, the network has looked to develop more top-quality original programming, including "Sunday Best" (a gospel singer competition), "Keyshia Cole: The Way It Is" (a reality show that follows the singer offstage) and specials featuring interviews with Presidential candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. BET has also launched a "Decision '08" section on BET.com about the coming election.

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