“A lot of black journalists struggle to find jobs, even a small internship. So if even BET [Black Entertainment Television], a black string, get on it, there’s a problem. » For Christian Dzellat, founder of the community information portal Nofi, the absence of black hosts on a channel devoted to Afro culture is an insult.
On October 21, after several days of protest, he managed to meet Thierry Cammas, CEO of MTV Networks France (owner of BET France), and Michael D. Armstrong, vice-president of BET US. The same evening, Christian Dzellat reported on his Facebook page that the new television channel was committed to starting a campaign to recruit “talent from the black community”.
Call for boycott
The next day, the channel made the same commitments to the Boycott BET France collective and the Representative Council of Black Associations in France (CRAN). “They explained to us that it was a communication error. We doubt it a bit, but at least they took our demands into account”, underlines Yan Boss, the spokesperson of the collective. The movement has ceased its actions but remains vigilant.
Boycott BET France is at the origin of the dispute. On October 14, the group created a Facebook page to denounce the channel’s casting. Within days, the page garnered 5,000 likes, 4,000 more than the channel’s official page. The objective was to challenge the French version of BET and the Higher Audiovisual Council (CSA) to let them know of their dissatisfaction. The American press also caught wind of the controversy, the magazine ebony dedicated an article to him. Solicited by The World AfricaBET France declined to comment. “We sent a good dozen letters to the CSA. During our interview, the boss of the chain told us that he had a meeting with them following this », explains Yan Boss.
Far from the initial idea
To support the launch of BET France and ensure the animation of one of the channel’s programs, Hedia Charni, Franco-Tunisian, and Raphäl Yem, of Cambodian origin, have been recruited. Choices that Yan Boss deplores. “To promote black culture, you need a minimum of black people on the air. You can’t open a halal restaurant and put Chinese people inside. »
BET is a strong symbol linked to the history of African Americans. Founded in 1980 by Robert Johnson, BET appeared at a time when blacks were not very present on American television. For Yan Boss, the French context is similar to that of the United States in the 1980s.
Hedia Charni and Raphäl Yem are not the direct targets of the page calling for the boycott. But in a French audiovisual landscape that already leaves little room for blacks, their promotion on a channel dedicated to Afro culture divides. “There may be people who are not black but at least for the launch, send a strong signal to say we respect you”, developed Christian Dzellat before meeting the management of BET France.
“Everything is done without us”
This absence of blacks on television has been observed by Claudy Siar for many years. The radio host was interministerial delegate for equal opportunities for French people overseas between 2011 and 2012. “We are all trapped in this concept of diversity which has only marginalized a section of the French population. There is a people of normality, French and white, and diversity (Asians, blacks, Arabs…)”, regrets the one who is also the current vice-president of the Representative Council of French Overseas (Crefom).
In mid-October BET France had tried to stifle the controversy by claiming that other presenters from “black culture” would join the antenna. Only the use of the term “black” was not unanimous either. “We are blacks, there are whites. I don’t say “white”. I have the feeling that in France, the Black disturbs “, denounces Christian Dzellat.
BET France has taken control of its communication and should soon announce the arrival of new faces on the air. But for Claudy Siar the problem does not stop at the question of the animators. “Are there people at the head of this media who can defend black culture? (…) Everything is done without us, behind our backs, against our will. »