Bad News For The Knight Foundation

November 4, 2006
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From Jim Metrock:

One of the last organizations that should ever give money to Channel One is the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. This organization helps promote excellence in journalism. Now it appears they have expanded their mission to help underwrite bizarre journalism.

As responsible advertisers have fled from Channel One’s controversial TV show, Channel One needs money from other sources to survive. The Knight Foundation says they intend to give Channel One $2.25 million over the next three years.

This is the email that I sent on October 17 to Mr. Alberton Ibarguen the President and CEO of the Knight Foundation:

 

Dear Mr. Ibarguen

The Knight Foundation has made a mistake by partnering with the controversial Channel One company.

Channel One is outlawed from all public schools in their home state of New York. Your foundation should ask, “Why?” The vast majority of U.S. secondary schools eligible for Channel One’s “free” service have rejected them and it has nothing to do with censorship or not wanting students to have a news program in their schools.

It has to do with ethics.

It is wrong to exploit a captive audience of schoolchildren. The Knight Foundation is now helping to prop up a financially-strapped Channel One and is working against the interests of many parents, teachers and students. Channel One is a 21st Century form of indentured servitude. Channel One loans equipment to schools and makes the students work off the debt (which can never be paid off) by watching their show and commercials. Their contract demands that schools show their program, whether teachers want it or not, at least 90% of school days. What part of this does Knight see as OK?

You have a wonderful message but you are using a very controversial vehicle to deliver it. The donors to your foundation probably have little idea that you are partnering with a company that is a pariah among many educators and educational organizations. No journalist or educator has ever been at the helm of Channel One because it is an advertising and marketing company.

The recently released Senate Finance Minority Report on lobbyist Jack Abramoff that showed how he misused nonprofits to help Channel One and others should give your organization pause.
( http://www.obligation.org/article.php?recordID=770 ) Is this a company that deserves your money? When Channel One finally did a story on Jack Abramoff, they failed to mention that their company employed Abramoff at one time. This is typical “Channel One journalism.” http://www.obligation.org/channelonevideo.php?id=104

Channel One robs schoolchildren of one hour a week of school time. That equates to over one week of instructional time lost each year. That equals seven lost weeks of school between sixth and twelfth grade. Yes, you will affect some students with your message about the First Amendment, but you will also, unfortunately, help to keep some young people from graduating. Channel One is found disproportionately in lower-income areas. These children need that extra hour a week more than other students. Think about those students that desperately need more reading time and less TV time. Schools that can say “No” to Channel One, say “No.”

The children of Knight Foundation employees probably all go to very nice schools that would never think about selling student access to junk food peddlers and movie studios through Channel One. I ask your Foundation to think of the negative impact your grant will have on these children. Channel One will obviously benefit from the injection of your cash, but they will benefit from linking themselves to the good reputation of the Knight Foundation. We already see their PR machine at work.

The irony is that the Knight Foundation is linking arms with a company that tramples on what your organization holds dear – journalism.

Channel One’s CEO Judy Harris in a public meeting this spring said that the in-school TV show has been doing “advertorials.” ( Watch the video of her. http://www.obligation.org/article.php?recordID=44 ) She didn’t blink an eye when she mentioned the combining of news and commercial content. Our web site is filled with documented evidence that shows Channel One uses feature stories to help sell products. Under Ms. Harris students don’t know where the news ends and ads begin. This is an ugly form of journalism and it’s one that you should not be supporting.

Some examples: Channel One begins a show on the location of the Gravity Games. Why is this a newsworthy event? Why have someone from these Games be a guest news anchor? Students are never told, but Channel One’s parent company PRIMEDIA had purchased the Games and was using Channel One to drive young people to the TV coverage. This year Channel One has spent large amounts of time covering Gatorade Players of the Year. Gatorade is a major sponsor.

When American Express’s Cobaltcard “buying card” was being heavily advertised to teens and preteens on Channel One, Channel One ran a story before the holidays about how a credit card or buying card can make Internet purchases much easier. The news appears to be for sale at Channel One and now the Knight Foundation is implicitly endorsing this concept.
This past school year, students watched a U.S. Army recruitment commercial then the show immediately went into a story that plugged the U.S. Army-sponsored All-Star football game that weekend. http://www.obligation.org/article.php?recordID=56
Also: http://www.obligation.org/article.php?recordID=8

Channel One’s regular news anchors also have held up CDs and told students “It’s great.” They have used their position as news reporters to urge teens and preteens to go see certain movies that coming weekend and to watch certain TV shows that night. When it comes to journalism, Channel One News is the Wild West – apparently anything goes.

I urge you to review our many articles about Channel One, many backed with the transcript of the show or video proof. obligation.org

Channel One published their “News Standards” in the 90’s to try to get schools signed up. They specifically stated that no guest news anchor would ever be allowed to plug a product. This happens so often now it is sickening. Students who watch Channel One News will certainly believe that it is acceptable for a news reporter to use their position during a news show to plug a movie, CD or TV show.
(Proof: http://www.obligation.org/channelonevideo.php?id=86 , http://www.obligation.org/article.php?recordID=113 . http://www.obligation.org/channelonevideo.php?id=85 , http://www.obligation.org/article.php?recordID=278 )

Channel One has lost one-half of their ad revenue since 1996. There is a reason for that. In 2006, it isn’t OK anymore to exploit schoolchildren. It isn’t OK for the Knight Foundation to fund this exploitation. I urge your foundation to conduct a due diligence investigation of Channel One. Go to your local schools and ask why they don’t have Channel One. Ask yourselves why are all the major editorials written about Channel One, written by great journalists around the country, urge its removal from schools.

Last month, a number of people and organizations signed a coalition letter asking advertisers to remove their support from Channel One and a similarly offensive program called BusRadio. I am attaching this letter. I hope it helps you reconsider your sponsorship of Channel One. I would suspect none of the people and organization signing this letter would ever have thought that an organization like yours would support Channel One.

Sincerely,

Jim Metrock
president
Obligation, Inc.
PO Box 26270
Birmingham, AL 35226
205.822.0080

Mr. Ibarguen did not respond. A person in their Communications department sent me a form email that addressed none of the concerns mentioned in my email. You would expect more from such a foundation.

If the Knight Foundation is giving $2.25 million to a company that mocks journalism, then they probably have so much money they will give some cash to anyone who applies for a grant. You too can possibly get some Knight money. Click here to apply for a Knight Foundation grant.

I would suggest asking for at least a million. Good luck!

 

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