| Channel One
Is it possible that eight million students in 12,000 classrooms are being required to watch commercial-filled television every day? Yes - through the aggressive marketing of Channel One, an in-school news and advertising program has the dubious distinction of being both the largest form of commercialism in schools and one of the most exploitative. In return for lending schools a satellite dish, VCRs, and TV sets, Channel One requires that students spend class time watching the program.
Every school that shows Channel One signs a contract, essentially promising to deliver a "captive audience" - as Channel One promotional materials call students. Most schools must air Channel One on 90 percent of school days and in 80 percent of the classrooms.
Students and teachers cannot change the channel, turn off the program, or turn down the sound - an ideal environment from an advertiser's perspective. In exchange for this irresistible opportunity to market to a captive audience, Channel One can charge advertising rates of up to $195,000 per 30-second ad.
Channel One claims to be "the leading provider of television news and educational programs to America's secondary schools." But a University of Massachusetts-Amherst study found that schools that can afford to say no to Channel One do say no. The study found that the program is disproportionately shown in schools located in low-income communities and communities of color. Channel One is found where the least money is available for education, where the least amount is spent on textbooks and other academic materials.
Yet communities with schools that contract with Channel One still pay dearly for this "opportunity." Channel One takes up precious classroom time with advertisements: each minute the programs air, taxpayers are paying - and students are losing. A recent study by the University of Wisconsin -Milwaukee's Center for the Analysis of Commercialism in Education revealed that school time lost to Channel One costs taxpayers $1.8 billion dollars per year, $300 million to commercials alone.
In 1997, the New York media watchdog group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting coordinated the first comprehensive analysis of Channel One. Vassar College Sociology Professor William Hoynes and Johns Hopkins University Media Studies Professor Mark Crispin Miller analyzed 36 Channel One shows distributed between 1995-1996.
The researchers found that only 20 percent of Channel One airtime is spent on coverage of "recent political, economic, social and cultural stories." The remaining 80 percent is devoted to advertising, sports, weather and natural disasters, features and profiles, and self-promotion of Channel One. Professor Hoynes concluded, "It is dubious whether such news provides educational or civic benefits to either students or educators."
Shelley Pasnik, Director of Children's Policy at the Center for Media Education, analyzed Channel One's web site as part of the study. "Channel One's online forays don't stray from its main purpose to expose students to an endless stream of promotion," Pasnik said. She cautioned students and teachers against providing personal information online that could be used for marketing purposes.
Researchers encountered difficulties in obtaining Channel One tapes for the content study. While Channel One uses public schools as an outlet for its programming, it refuses to allow public access to its tapes and programs. The tapes for the study were acquired by parent and TV-Free America activist Brad Rockwell of Texas, who contacted the Texas Attorney General's office and threatened litigation after his child's school refused to yield the tapes for review. "I'm glad that after all these years, the actual content of Channel One is finally being brought to light. The content study shows that Channel One is all about providing a captive market of children to advertisers," Rockwell said.
While Channel One claims that schools can preview the program, the fact is that programs are broadcast into a locked box the morning before they are shown, making it virtually impossible for educators or administrators to review the programming before airing it in the classroom. While Channel One claims a 99 percent renewal rate of those schools subscribing to the program, the fact is that Channel One is generally automatically renewed and that the number of schools airing Channel One has remained about the same since 1990.
Communities across the country are fighting to get Channel One out of their schools - no simple feat as the contract lasts three years and generally renews automatically if no one protests. Students and parents have asked for alternative homerooms, spoken out at school board meetings, written newsletters, and even staged walk-outs during the program to protest its compulsory nature.
Communities protesting Channel One are in good company. Since the outset of the program, almost every national educational group has taken a strong stand against Channel One and other commercial broadcasts in the classroom. These include: