Texas State School Board Does Not Pass Channel One Resolution

November 25, 2002

From Jim Metrock:

Channel One’s president Jim Ritts came to the Texas school board meeting himself. It was that important. A resolution urging Texas school districts to remove Channel One had been introduced in September. Channel One hastily hired the law firm of Akin Gump to represent them. But Ritts knew the stakes were too high to leave it to lawyers who knew little to nothing about Channel One. Ritts testified for his company at the November 15 Texas State Board of Education meeting.

Ritts and other Channel One people lobbied the State Board members and they sent a fax to Texas public school teachers to enlist them in the effort to help their company. This communication with Texas teachers may be in violation of the Texas ethics law if a teacher was given anything of value, such as a hotel room or travel expenses. (It appears that only three teachers showed up to testify for Channel One.)

The end result of Channel One’s efforts, backed by a lot of money and manpower, was a 12-3 vote against the resolution. No one should take this as an endorsement for Channel One. It is merely a vote on a resolution strongly opposing Channel One News. There was no resolution in favor or complimentary to Channel One. Some who opposed the resolution also oppose Channel One but thought that local control was being violated by the resolution, even though it was non-binding on local school districts. The Austin American-Statesman editorially opposed the resolution but stated that the paper was “no fan of Channel One.” (A resolution was passed that referred to a previous resolution passed in 1992 that urged local schools to be wary of commercial deals like Channel One’s. And the new resolution urges parents to become familiar with what their schools were advertising to their child.)

Channel One executives, especially Ritts, lied to the Texas board members. Ritts didn’t tell the truth when he said that only one song on Channel One had ever come from an album with a parental warning sticker. He refused to send board members the list of songs his company has played for children (it was “unreasonably difficult”). The fact is Channel One News has played many songs from artists known for their indecent lyrics. (Korn, Bone Thugs and Harmony, Cold and Marilyn Manson are a few examples.)

Ritts told a whopper of a lie when he addressed the board and said Channel One was not the only company running commercials in the classroom. He mentioned ZapMe! as a fellow classroom advertiser. Obligation’s Mrs. Pat Ellis (who was not allowed to finish her remarks even though she had not run out of time) embarrassed Mr. Ritts by pointing out the truth. ZapMe! was defunct. It was taken out of classrooms three years ago. There isn’t even a company named ZapMe! anymore.

Debbie McMillian, Channel One’s School Participant Manager, lied when she told Texas teachers in her fax that it was a “well-funded” effort by “anti-free enterprise” groups that was behind this resolution. Ms. McMillian knew that was untrue but sent it to teachers anyhow. It appears that the mindset of Channel One is “Why not lie. We can always say  it was a mistake.”

Ritts refused the request of a board member to furnish the list of all movies advertised to Texas schoolchildren, or the list of guest hosts and the products they plug, or the list of food products (mainly candy and soft drinks) advertised. It seems Jim Ritts thinks that is none of the Texas State Board of Education’s business.

Channel One prevented a disaster by defeating this resolution but it cost them a lot of money, and worse, it refocused attention on this massive waste of Texas school time and money. Ritts said that nearly 1,300 Texas school are under contract to their company. He said 50,000 classrooms have a Channel One rental TV set. Texas is now not a stable market for their product. Parents are getting mobilized on the local level where Channel One’s cash is less effective.

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