Letter to Ernie Allen, President of The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children

February 1, 1999

There is probably not a more important organization in our country than the¬†NCMEC. Their partnership with Channel One shocks the senses. The recklessness¬†of Channel One’s web site is well-documented on this site. Now, sacred to death¬†of congressional hearings, Channel One has “cleaned up” their web¬†act. Being a partner with the NCMEC gives Channel One prestige. It is prestige¬†they did not earn.

February 1, 1999

Mr. Ernie Allen, President
National Center for Missing and Exploited Children
2101 Wilson Blvd., Suite 550
Arlington, VA 22201-3077

Dear Mr. Allen:

In December, Mrs. Pat Ellis of Obligation, and I met with Ms. Cartwright and¬†showed her the history of Channel One’s reckless disregard for the Internet¬†safety of children. For that reason, and the obvious reason that Channel One¬†commercially exploits a captive audience of schoolchildren, we urged the Center¬†to distance itself from Channel One.

We have heard nothing since. Indeed, Channel One’s latest “Educator Guide”,¬†handed out to potential advertisers, shows your picture at the end of an article¬†that calls Channel One and the NCMEC “partners”. You could not have¬†picked a worse “partner”.

Let me restate what your “partner” has done:

1. Channel One encouraged children to send their picture to them so they could¬†post it on the Internet. The photo would also be accompanied by enough personal¬†information that anyone could find the child. (This was chillingly called “Fresh¬†Faces”. Channel One stopped this after Obligation objected.)
2. Channel One urged children, during their in-school program, to go to their¬†chat rooms on their website. Channel One allowed at various times private rooms¬†to be used by children and their anonymous “friends”.
3. During chat room registration, Channel One asked children for “optional¬†information” such as your home address, phone number, email address, the¬†URL site where your photo can be seen, and a description of yourself (your “online¬†persona”). No mention of checking with parents.
4. Channel One constructed a message board for children to exchange personal¬†information with anonymous Internet users. They called it “Personal Ads”.¬†The NCMEC is partnering with a company that saw nothing wrong with a “Personal¬†Ads for Children” message board.
5. Channel One repeatedly approved ads for its website that would ask children for personal information without any request for parental approval.
6. Channel One linked children to age-inappropriate web sites. Some provided¬†children easy access to pornography. (Channel One changed this after the Shelby¬†County (AL) school board read the “riot act” to Channel One’s Paul¬†Folkemer in September 1998. They ended their contract with Channel One.)
7. Channel One’s TV show gave children every indication that chat rooms were¬†fun and that no danger was associated with them.
8. Channel One’s website blurred editorial content with advertisements so that¬†a child may think he is filling out personal information for Channel One but¬†is really sending it to another company.

Attached is proof of everything mentioned above. While all this was happening,¬†the NCMEC was a partner of Channel One. I am enclosing a letter that I copied¬†to the NCMEC in December 1996 outlining the dangerous nature of Channel One’s¬†chat rooms. I never received a reply.

Channel One’s website is still sending children to advertisers who will ask¬†children for personal information. This is wrong.

At a TV convention last week, Channel One was handing out sales literature¬†mentioning their chat rooms and message boards. “Best teen chat” their¬†sales literature states. But the chat rooms are gone. Why did they tell potential¬†advertisers differently? It could be that Channel One dramatically cleaned¬†up their appearance after last April’s press release by Sen. Richard Shelby¬†who blasted Channel One as a waste of time and called for new Senate hearings¬†on this company.

Since then Channel One has frantically dumped much of their web site and hired¬†new people so they can say none of the past was their fault. That is hollow¬†for the children that your “partner” put in harm’s way. If these¬†congressional hearings don’t happen, then Channel One has a financial incentive¬†to reinstall chat rooms and “Personal Ads” for kids to attract more “hits” on¬†its web site.

Channel One’s commercial exploitation of children has been opposed by the¬†National PTA, the American Association of School Administrators, the National¬†Association of State Boards of Education, Ralph Nader, the Family Research¬†Council, the American Family Association, Focus on the Family, and many more.

Channel One’s brand of exploitation may not be the same exploitation referred¬†to in your organization’s name, but it is a very real problem that other child¬†advocacy groups, parents, and educators are attempting to fight. The NCMEC¬†is making our battle extremely difficult. Allowing your good name to be used¬†by Channel One lends this marketing company undeserved credibility.

You have an important message to children. Channel One is not the means to convey it.

I urge you to not only reconsider your relationship with Channel One but also to publicly rebuke Channel One for its exploitation of eight million schoolchildren.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Much Obliged,

Jim Metrock

Attachments – Press Release

Cc: Sen. Richard Shelby
Sen. Jeff Sessions
Rep. Bud Cramer
Eric Link, Counsel, House Committee on Commerce
Gary Ruskin, Commercial Alert /Ralph Nader