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On BNN, voice or too much vice?

After Jerry P. McDermott tucked his 4-year-old and 2-year-old daughters into bed on May 13, he wasn't thinking about the recent spike of underage crime in Boston. He wasn't focused on the fact that there had been seven murders in Boston during the preceding seven days -- until he switched on Boston Neighborhood Network.

On BNN, a local-access TV channel run by the city, he saw a program that glorified violence, sex, and a thug's lifestyle, he said.

``When I turned on my TV I said, `This is crazy,' " said McDermott, city councilor for Allston/Brighton . ``There was this music video with guys acting like thugs and pimps, making gestures with their hands like they were shooting someone and women were grinding them with thong bikinis on. It was completely degrading to women and glorified the thug life."

The program McDermott tuned in to, ``Strictly Hip Hop," has been running on BNN for 10 years, and currently is shown on Saturdays at 10 p.m. Produced by Al McFarlan, a 52-year-old postal worker, the show features local hip-hop performers' homemade music videos as well as music videos from artists such as 50 Cent.

What he saw on TV prompted McDermott to start a campaign to monitor the station's programming because, he said, it may compound the problem of youth violence in Boston. On Tuesday, the City Council's Committee on Youth Violent Crime Prevention held a public hearing at City Hall, where McDermott and other city councilors listened to testimony from producers at BNN, students, members from women's rights groups, and the Boston Police Department.

BNN general manager Curtis Henderson and producers at the network contend that community access television exists in order to create a community dialogue -- one that incorporates people from various cultures and languages.

The station's content, Henderson said, includes programming in 14 languages and offers community members a chance to have their voices -- ``which might otherwise be silent" -- heard. Henderson said that BNN has strict guidelines on offensive material. If a show's content is questionable, it's put on after 10 p.m.

Producers and audiences of the shows ``come from very different backgrounds, and part of some of their cultures is to dance and wear clothing that may not be acceptable by other cultures," Henderson said during an earlier telephone interview. ``Just because you don't like the content, you can't tell people that they can't do it."

In his testimony, Henderson outlined BNN's commitment to educational programming for youths. BNN runs shows such as ``Girl TV," a teen issues show hosted by high school seniors; and ``Youth Build Boston," a show for urban teens that discusses summer programs, finding employment, and dealing with troublesome situations.

At the hearing, McDermott said it's not his intention to criticize BNN's hip-hop shows, but rather a chance for the community to discuss how a local-access station could be used to promote positive values.

Testimony from audience members later helped spawn discussions about other issues, such as dress codes in Boston's public schools, the importance of peer leadership, sex education, First Amendment rights, and the essence of hip-hop culture.

``Hip-hop is a way of expression, but we should question what we watch," said one female 16-year-old audience member, summarizing a view expressed by several teens at the hearing.

BNN, one of four community access channels in Boston, is a nonprofit network funded by surcharges to Comcast and RCN subscribers. The network has editorial control over programming, although the mayor appoints three of the nine members on BNN's board of directors.

Ryan Murphy can be reached at ciweek@globe.com.

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