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Education Reporter

Channel One Still Plays to Captive Audiences
But some schools are stopping the music

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WASHINGTON, DC - America's classrooms continue to provide a captive audience for the highly questionable programming of Channel One, the so-called "news" network. According to a report by the Family Research Council (FRC), eight million 12- to 18-year-olds, or 40% of American teenagers, are exposed to Channel One's controversial broadcasts, commercials and music selections five days a week.

Citizens groups, such as the Birmingham, AL-based Obligation Inc., have been working to raise awareness of Channel One's presence in the public schools. The primary concern of these groups is that most parents don't even know that their children are watching commercials and "politically correct" news during class time. These efforts are beginning to bear fruit. In some states, schools are pulling the plug on Channel One:

  • In Alabama, the Shelby County school board approved a decision last month to terminate Channel One immediately, while the Jefferson County board ordered its schools to turn off the daily 12-minute broadcasts temporarily. A third Alabama district, Blount County, has pledged to end its contractual agreement with Channel One.

  • Georgia and Utah have mandated that Channel One's programming cannot be counted as classroom time.

  • The Texas State Senate Education Committee has vowed to find out which schools have contracts with Channel One and expose the content of the programming to parents.

  • The State of New York claims to have saved millions of dollars by refusing to allow the network into its public schools. Channel One is permitted only in private schools that choose to air it.

  • Parents in a number of states have filed lawsuits against local school districts for requiring Channel One while prohibiting more wholesome activities such as Bible studies.

Cultural 'Heroes'?

Channel One's musical programming includes the likes of shock rocker Marilyn Manson, whose CD entitled Anti-Christ Superstar is well known among young people, as is his pseudo-philosophy that devalues all moral decency. As one 13-year-old girl put it: "He's everywhere - on the radio, on TV, in commercials."

The FRC report notes: "Channel One's exposure of Manson did not stop with its television broadcasts, but was included on its website, which is advertised during the classroom broadcasts and receives more than one million hits per day." The website's Playlist also features the rap group Bone Thugs and Harmony, who sing about sex, rape and gun violence. It was the "music" of this group that, according to court testimony, obsessed the 13-year-old killer Mitchell Johnson prior to the Jonesboro, AR, school massacre.

Advertising and Commercialism

A public outcry forced the removal of Manson from Channel One's website, but according to the FRC, "the question remains whether the motivation behind the network's initial promotion of Manson has changed." Manson has been labeled "one of the most potent commercial forces of the late 1990s."

A similar assessment could be made of many of Channel One's advertisers, which include such heavyweights as Nike, Reebok, Pepsico, Nintendo, and Taco Bell. Ads bombard captive teens with fast-paced music and "intoxicating imagery" - all offering high-energy, pie-in-the-sky pictures of an adolescent lifestyle that is likely unattainable, even with the purchase of the advertised products.

The FRC report cites Channel One's own promotional research to demonstrate the network's commitment to attracting ad revenues. A single 30-second spot costs $200,000, which is comparable to the cost of prime-time ads on regular network television. In selling the spots, Channel One points out its ability to deliver the "hardest to reach" teen viewer - kids who, for a variety of reasons, don't watch much television at home. The network's contracts with schools (except those in California) require that students be present during the broadcasts, which are often shown during home room periods.

In addition to big-name product advertising, the FRC report charges Channel One with "carrying ads for questionable movies and racy television programs" such as Unhappily Every After and New York Undercover. The report states that Channel One's website "has promoted R-rated moves like Fargo." One recent website review "lauds the film In and Out, more for its favorable and nonchalant portrayal of homosexuality than for any measurable standards of quality."

Supporting Studies

In 1997, the results of two academic studies showed Channel One to be primarily an advertising tool, rather than an educational tool (See Education Reporter, March 1997).

Early this year, the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee conducted a study entitled "The Hidden Costs of Channel One," and found that the network costs taxpayers $1.8 billion per year in lost classroom time (See Education Reporter, June 1998).

Politically Correct 'News'

One of the researchers who participat-ed in the 1997 studies characterized Channel One's "news" stories as "getting us ready for the ads," noting that "the news cannot ever be permitted to detract in any way from the commercials." But the FRC cautions that Channel One's news "conveys a distinct cultural message" by including, for example, the use of sexual orientation in the list of prejudices that provide a basis for committing hate crimes.

Other topics Channel One finds newsworthy include HIV, AIDS, and shock jock Howard Stern. A quiz on Stern asked students whether they find him "offensive" or "funny," implying that all teens are familiar with the outrageous radio and TV personality whose topics of conversation include casual sex, lesbianism, drunkenness, and a variety of bizarre and vulgar subjects. An AIDS story on Channel One's website linked kids to web pages that provide instructions for condom use and offer graphic descriptions of sexual activities. One site, called "AIDS and Young People," dated July 17, 1998, advises: "AIDS has made sex more difficult. It is one more thing to think about. But AIDS is not something to be so frightened of that it puts you off from ever having sex."

Channel One's news has also included pro-United Nations propaganda, reports of natural disasters that promote radical environmentalism, and stories that stress "global citizenship" and the "global community."

Congress to Look at Channel One

When Channel One premiered in 1991, the U.S. Senate opened hearings to discuss the possible benefits and pitfalls of commercial television in the classroom, but concluded that such hearings were premature. Over the past seven years, the concerns of parents, citizens groups and legislators have grown.

Last April, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) asked his colleagues to again convene hearings on the increasingly questionable concept of commercial television in schools. Shelby views the hearings as "a lead-off point to educate parents and local school boards about the informational void surrounding Channel One."

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