So You Have Channel One in Your School

September 10, 1997
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Obligation has received calls from Kansas to Florida, Minnesota to Massachusetts, asking for information about Channel One. Our organization has been swamped, and we again apologize for the length of time it has taken to respond to calls and to get packets of information out.

If you have Channel One, this would be a suggested course of action:

If you agree with most educational organizations and believe that TV commercials have no place in a schoolhouse, then write a letter to your school superintendent and ask that Channel One be discontinued immediately. You do not have to see the program. The content is irrelevant. This is a well-reasoned approach to the Channel One problem. One never really needs to see Channel One to realize it is pure and simple exploitation of school children.

If you are more concerned with content problems than with the principle of classroom commercialization, then write a letter to the Superintendent asking for copies of every Channel One episode be made available for parents to review in their homes.

The Channel One broadcast on a Monday is automatically erased by Channel One’s VCR early Tuesday morning when Tuesday’s show arrives via satellite. This is curriculum that is erased within 24 hours. If parents are to be able to review it and analyze the show, it must be copied onto other tapes.

It is clearly inadequate for a school to merely allow parents to come to the school to see the rebroadcast to the students. This discriminates against parents, and other taxpayers, who cannot get to the school during the day. Plus, there is no opportunity to dissect the show and to replay it.

Channel One had no problem with giving my school permission to make copies of Channel One for parents to take home. In fact, Claudia Peters, Network Public Affairs, said Channel One encourages such taping. “We are proud of our broadcast,” she told me.

Our suggestion is to donate at least three blank tapes to the school and ask that all five daily shows be copied onto one tape. The next week, you or others can check the tape out and review the previous week’s content. Bring the tape back in time for another week’s taping. This is the way we discovered the editorial and commercial content problems over the last year and a half.

Don’t accept “We don’t have the time or personnel to make copies, but you’re free to come to the library and see all the Channel One you want.” The broadcast is bounced off a satellite early every morning onto the Channel One VCR. It is automatically recorded. No human lifts a finger. Whenever the show is rebroadcast to the students, all a person needs to do is put the blank tape in the other Channel One VCR, or another connected VCR, and press “record”. Twelve minutes later, the “stop” button needs to pressed. Someone has to be around the equipment anyway during the rebroadcast, so you can see there is minimal inconvenience.

Hopefully, your school values parental involvement and parental review of materials that are part of the school’s curriculum. Whether Channel One is truly “curriculum” or not, is insignificant. It is a required part of a child’s day. It is being held out as educational. It is undeniably controversial. A school therefore should bend over backwards to distribute tapes of the program to the community. It would be in the school board’s best interest to shift some of the responsibility onto parents.

If your school refuses to make tapes available to parents, you probably have a bigger problem at your school than Channel One. I would suggest going to your local newspaper, radio or TV station. TV stations are also hurt by the “end-around” Channel One does with the commercials. There is one established pipeline for TV commercials to reach children, and the rest of us – network and cable television.

Channel One goes to national advertisers and says, “Your local TV station in Birmingham or Cincinnati or St. Louis can’t deliver the kids anymore. We can. Give us the money you would have paid them and see the power of a captive audience.” I have found newspaper, radio, and television reporters like to shine a light on anything that smells of someone being taken advantage of. Even more so when children are involved.

If parents can’t see what their children are seeing in school, then don’t call the cops – call a journalist.

Many parents are concerned for their child’s status at school. “Hey, your parents are trying to get our TVs turned off at school!” This is valid concern.

There is a real simple way to not only protect your child, but possibly make him or her a hero at school. When I addressed my school board, I suggested that the 12 minutes a day we gain from the unplugging of Channel One be added to core curriculum classes or let the students out of school 12 minutes early every day. Either way they are better off than being forced to watch this Hollywood/Madison Avenue advertising gimmick. Would kids vote to watch Channel One or vote to have the bell ring 12 minutes early?

A poll taken at our middle school, in 1995, showed 60% of students disliked Channel One. It would be 99.9% if they knew a bunch of well-dressed and well-paid advertising executives at 600 Madison Avenue had signed contracts keeping them in school an hour longer than necessary every week.

The school board should be your focus in your Channel One removal efforts. They are the ones that don’t really know the controversy Channel One has always carried. A previous school board, probably in the early ’90s agreed to experiment with Channel One and then everyone forgot about it. Your current school board should be given a pass as far as blame goes. From my experience, most board members have never heard of this TV show, even though they have required students to lose 31 hours a year watching it.

Once the current board knows about Channel One, then they are accountable. If they continue requiring mandatory viewing then Channel One is “their baby.” You might want to get your school board attorney to publish a formal opinion about the legality of converting taxpayer-purchased school time into private profits. Can he or she tell Board Members they have no liability if a parent complains of their child losing weeks of learning time due to the Channel One contract? Or of their child being exposed to ads for potentially dangerous Internet chat rooms?

We’ll expand on this article later. For now, tell them to turn it off, and if not, make copies for you. Remember the significance of what you are doing when you seek to remove Channel One from a school. Channel One requires 31 hours of viewing (minimum) per school year. That is equal to one week of instruction. How could young lives change, if they had that extra time for English or math?

 

Jim Metrock