Thursday, February 13, 2003

Black news channel announced

The Associated Press

An Atlanta-based cable company plans to launch a 24-hour news channel aimed at black viewers late this year or early in 2004.

Major Broadcasting Cable Network, best known for airing the football and basketball games of black colleges, will call its new sister network "MBC News: The Urban Voice."

The plans were announced two months after the more established Black Entertainment Television announced a sharp cutback in its public affairs programming. Willie Gary, a principal of MBC, said the timing is coincidental.

"We didn't plan it that way," Gary said. "But clearly, it's a void there from the African-American perspective that we will be filling."

MBC News will be modeled after CNN Headline News, and has hired former CNN newsman Gordon Graham. It will show news, sports and weather reports on a 30-minute "wheel," with occasional other programming.

With limited room for more channels on cable systems, the news network will face an uphill battle to survive. The 4-year-old main MBC network claims it is seen in 24 million homes - less than a quarter of the nation's TV households.

MBC News won't restrict itself to black issues, said Gary, who is joined on the network's board by boxer Evander Holyfield, entertainer Marlon Jackson and former baseball star Cecil Fielder.

"While we'll be talking about Iraq, we'll also be talking about some important stories that will be going on in the urban market," Gary said. "With another channel, you might not get that on a daily basis."

MBC representatives have talked to Cincinnati's Time Warner Cable division in recent years about carriage here of its general entertainment channel, not the new all-news service.

"We've had several meeting with them. It's possible it will be launched here in the future," said Jennifer Mooney, Cincinnati Time Warner vice president for public affairs.

Northern Kentucky's Insight Communications also has no firm plans to add MBC News, a spokesman said.

BET disappointed some black viewers in December by canceling the interview program BET Tonight with Ed Gordon, on which former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott appeared to express contrition over racially insensitive remarks about Strom Thurmond. The Sunday morning show Lead Story and public affairs program Teen Summit were also axed.

Debra Lee, BET's president, said she doubts that an all-news channel aimed at blacks can be successful. People admire public affairs programming but don't necessarily watch it, she said. And building a news network is expensive, she added, one reason that BET is partners with fellow Viacom-owned CBS News for some programming.

"I think it's interesting," Lee said. "I just don't know how they make it work."

Major Broadcasting, which once emphasized its connection to gospel music, renounces sex and violence in its programming. Its Web site calls MBC "Your Family's Urban Television Network."

John Kiesewetter contributed to this report.

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