John Robson, director of programming on the Box, said he felt the controversy was largely a fabrication of the media, and that young viewers were smart enough to distinguish music videos and real life. "A lot of this stuff is like show business to them," he said.
"There's one thing that all these people against 'gangsta rap' should realize," said Jeff Lee, vice president of network operations and programming for BET. "These rappers didn't invent guns, and they didn't invent the use of guns. There's much more violence in movies today. But black kids get labeled with starting everything bad in society."
Still, all three cable outlets said they are aware of the controversy and are taking steps to counterbalance the violent images.
MTV recently aired a special dealing with violence among youth, "A Generation Under the Gun," and plans an anti-violence public-service campaign early next year.
The Box, a video "jukebox" available in about 17 million homes across the country and on several local cable systems, is also initiating a "Violence Sucks" ad campaign early next year.
BET says it will cut back dramatically on videos that feature guns, not because of anyone's protest but because other artists were not getting enough airplay.
"We want to work with the record industry, the artists and their management," Lee said. "You will not see guns and violence in the totality that you may have seen on BET. I'm not telling these people not to make these videos. They can be my guest. But we're going to limit how much of them we put out there."
Local youth leaders and members of protest organizations say those steps do not go far enough, and that the three companies should follow radio stations that have taken a stand against explicit rap songs.
KPWR-FM, the most popular English-language radio station in the Los Angeles-Orange County market, announced last week that it would eliminate three derogatory words from rap songs it plays. The move was made in response to concerns by listeners and a threatened advertiser boycott.
KPWR's decision came one day after WBLS-FM in New York City said it would ban songs that promoted violence or that had profane or hateful lyrics toward women and gays. Los Angeles station KACE-FM last month banned all music that glorified violence and denigrated women, saying it felt a moral responsibility as a black-owned station to protect its audience.
The opponents of explicit rap are not against all rap video, saying that there are often positive messages and information contained in the genre that reflects the brutal reality of the streets. They praised several rap videos, including "U.N.I.T.Y." by Queen Latifah, which criticizes black men who use insulting terms for women; "Keep Your Head Up" by Shakur, which is a tribute to African American women; and the black humor of "Hip Hop Hooray" by Naughty by Nature, which ends with a water-rifle battle between two groups of young people.