BROOKE GLADSTONE: Channel One, the daily TV news program piped into 40 percent of U.S. secondary schools is now 12 years old, just a little bit younger than its intended audience -- and it's always been on the defensive, but the pressure has mounted lately, brought to bear by critics who say the classroom is an inappropriate venue for the network's commercials. The schools do receive free video equipment from Channel One as part of the deal, but opponents say that's not good enough. Recent showdowns have resulted in wins for both sides of the issue, as OTM's Paul Ingles reports.
FEMALE ANNOUNCER: An oil tanker has broken apart in the Atlantic Ocean about 150 miles off the coast of Northwest Spain.
PAUL INGLES:The school day has just begun in teacher Steve Chavez's first period history class at Albuquerque's McKinley Middle School. All eyes are trained on the TV suspended from the ceiling at the front of the room.
ANNOUNCER: For seven days the oil tanker Prestige wallowed in heavy seas, leaking oil after its hull cracked during a storm.
PAUL INGLES:Like an estimated 8 million teens in classrooms across the country, these 8th graders are watching Channel One News on televisions the network donated to the school in exchange for the students' attention. Youthful news anchors Janet Choy [sp?] and Derek Shore [sp?] are today's hosts of a 12 minute show that looks much like any network newscast, only all the reporting is done by young folks who seem to know their stuff.
DEREK SHORE: Errol Barnett [sp?] is in Washington, DC with that story. Hi, Errol.
ERROL BARNETT: What's going on, Derek? You know this lame duck senate stayed late to vote on and past the Homeland Security Bill.
PAUL INGLES: The students watch closely and scribble down notes because they know they'll get a quiz on the news from Mr. Chavez. Just like on the network news, this show has commercials, two minutes that specifically target teens --advertising video games, TV shows, movies, beauty products and music. Or its public service announcements, many with anti-drug messages.
MALE ANNOUNCER: On the WB Friday--
PAUL INGLES:When the ads come on today, Mr. Chavez has a student assigned to hop up and turn the sound down -- and he starts quizzing the class.
MR. CHAVEZ: Okay, what did they call the sides of the boat - what's the side of a boat called?
MALE STUDENT: The hull?
MR. CHAVEZ: It's called the hull -- H U L L.
PAUL INGLES: Chavez says he doesn't always turn the commercials down, but he is selective as he tries to teach the persuasive power of advertising.
MR. CHAVEZ: If it's a commercial that's like a public service announcement for kids, like talking about talking about depression - talk to somebody or-- you know school violence - tell a counselor - then I'll let it run. But if it's a commercial trying to sell them video games, oftentimes we'll mock and laugh at the fact that one video game has all the commercials for 3 days in a row.
PAUL INGLES:While Channel One News and its ads are used as learning tools in this class, according to McKinley principal Scott Elder [sp?], it may have less impact for students in, say, a first period math class where it also must be shown.
SCOTT ELDER: And I see teachers that use it in a real instructional and powerful manner. I see other teachers who aren't as involved with it, and I don't know if their kids get as much from it.
PAUL INGLES:Critics say classrooms offer a captive teen audience for the ads, and lately groups that normally don't hang out together much like Conservative Phyllis Schlafly's Eagle Forum and Ralph Nader's Oregon-based Commercial Alert Organization have become more active in their opposition to the network. They're teaming up with some teacher and health organizations and concerned parents to get legislators and local school boards to reconsider Channel One.
SCOTT ELDER: The kids are a captive audience, and they definitely do watch the commercials, and I believe if you were an advertiser, you're definitely getting bang for your buck.
PAUL INGLES: McKinley principal Scott Elder.
SCOTT ELDER:But these kids are inundated with commercials and advertising and are attacked by the media at so many levels that I'm not sure that two minutes has that big of an impact.
PAUL INGLES:That's one argument heard often from teachers and administrators who like Channel One and, according to the network, keep renewing contracts and recommending the service. But Channel One opponents insist those two minutes do have more impact. Showing them in class implies a school endorsement they say.
JIM METROCK: The kids have to report to school because of compulsory attendance laws, and to make commercials a part of that school day is reprehensible to me.
PAUL INGLES:Jim Metrock [sp?] is an Alabama businessman who also runs a non-profit organization that's been campaigning to get Channel One out of schools since 1996.
JIM METROCK: That time should be taken with more reading and other things that are academic and not promoting junk food; violent, sexy movies and, and other things that have no place in, in a school day whether it's a regular length or extended length.
PAUL INGLES:Metrock collects the ads he thinks are least appropriate for teens, posts them on his web site and makes videotapes available to local groups taking on Channel One. The tapes made it to some members of the Texas State Board of Education this fall and convinced member Judy Strickland [sp?] to bring a resolution to the board.
JUDY STRICKLAND: [READING] ...and be it further resolved that the state board of education encourages each Texas school district to discontinue the showing of Channel One to shield students from its commercial influences.
PAUL INGLES:The proposed resolution singling out Channel One would still leave the decision on the service to local districts, but with education trends in Texas watched closely by the nation, especially with George Bush in the White House and with this huge state representing roughly 10 percent of Channel One's total audience, the company sent in its top executives to mount a defense. Calling or meeting with board members to argue its case, the former Christian Coalition head Ralph Reed, a Channel One supporter, and Jim Ritz [sp?], CEO of parent company Prime Media [sp?] and its vice president, Jeff Balabon.
RALPH REED: How is it possible that 50,000 Texas educators watch Channel One every day for 12 years and think the content is wonderful, but the - but a group in Oregon flies into Texas and creates a story about exploitative and hostile and negative and glorifying all kinds of bad behaviors? Clearly there's a disconnect between reality and this group from Oregon.
JIM RITZ: I'd like to run just those first two pieces please.
PAUL INGLES: Prime Media CEO Jim Ritz appeared at the board's November meeting to roll his own video to counter the ad reel the opponents had shown -- two Channel One news pieces - one spotlighting First Lady and Texan Laura Bush and the other an interview with a teen abstaining from sex were more representative, Ritz said, of the typical quality of the show's content.
JIM RITZ: I'm very proud of the fact that this news program has won over 200 different educational and journalistic awards including the George Foster Peabody Award and the Edward R. Murrow Responsibility in Television Award. I'm more, though, happy about the fact that we have such strong school approval.
PAUL INGLES:The company tried to tap into the support by issuing what it labeled an "urgent memo" to its Texas school clients. "Fringe political groups from outside Texas are working to take away Channel One," it read in part. A stack of support letters poured in to the board, some from students and parents and many from teachers and principals, some who came to testify at the board meeting, Bonofacio Doran [sp?], an Austin school principal among them, reading from a teacher's letter.
BONOFACIO DORAN: [READING] "I have seen many ideas come and go. Some of these resources have been well-received and lauded by educators and administrators, but alas, fall short when presented to the students. Channel One hits the mark. Channel One is presented in their language, with their music, and their interests at heart."
PAUL INGLES:The board heard testimony from ten speakers, a 5 to 5 split on the issue, with parent Linda Striegel [sp?] from Heath [sp?], Texas opposing Channel One.
LINDA STRIEGEL: Why? Ask yourselves why is Channel One - why did Prime Media want Channel One in the classroom? You know Prime Media is publicly held; it's a targeted media company with two business segments -- consumer and business to business. Well where do our students fit in? They aren't a business, so I guess they view 'em as consumers -- and that's not what our education is supposed to be used for -- to teach our children to be consumers.
PAUL INGLES:In the end, the Texas board passed a substitute resolution that removed any specific reference to Channel One and simply urged local districts to keep state education guidelines in mind when collaborating with commercial entities. It was a victory for Channel One that countered a few recent losses, like last year when the Seattle city schools voted to phase out the service by 2005. Channel One opponents in Texas say they'll just move their campaigns next to the local school districts in this and other states. Meantime, Channel One officials say in the still rare case that they're asked to leave a school, there's another one on its waiting list ready to sign on. [MUSIC UP AND UNDER] For On the Media, I'm Paul Ingles.