2000 GAO Study on Commercialism focuses on problems with Channel One News

October 17, 2018

Channel One has provided free audiovisual equipment and news programming to middle and high schools since 1990. Participating schools must sign a contract agreeing that they will show Channel One’s news program—10 minutes of news and 2 minutes of commercials—90 percent of all school days in 80 percent of all classrooms. In exchange, Channel One installs a free satellite dish, internal wiring at the school, two videocassette recorders, and a 19-inch television set for each classroom. Channel One owns, operates, and maintains the equipment.

Captive Kids: A Report on Commercial Pressures on Kids at School (Yonkers, N.Y.: Consumers Union, 1995) reviewed examples of educational materials sponsored by Fortune 500 companies, smaller companies, trade associations, and corporate foundations and institutes. Often the companies and commercial organizations had their own in-house operations for producing materials for schools, but just as often they used the services of school-marketing specialists.

Schools in two districts we visited had Channel One, but members of other school boards or district officials said their boards had rejected it, feeling that advertisements were inappropriate for the classroom. The schools that had Channel One felt the benefits of having the technology outweighed any concerns about the commercials. The schools incorporated Channel One into the school day in different ways—for example, by extending homeroom time or first period. According to some of the school officials we interviewed, classes were required only to have the television on, and some teachers let students talk quietly during the program. One teacher said he was more concerned about the quality of the news program than the commercials, saying that the program had changed and had less hard news and more feature stories.

Since Channel One was first introduced, critics have argued against it on many grounds: (1) its 2 minutes of daily commercials take up class time and take advantage of students as a “captive audience,” (2) showing commercials in schools gives products extra credence and credibility, (3) Channel One commercializes the classroom and education, and (4) schools do not have any control over the content of the program or commercials. On the other hand, supporters say that (1) Channel One exposes students to news that is current and relevant to them, particularly because many students are not exposed to news in any other way; (2) students learn media literacy; and (3) financially strapped schools receive needed technology resources free of charge. According to a Channel One official, 12,000 schools, or about 38 percent of all middle and high schools in the United States, are currently connected to the system, and the company plans to add another 1,000 schools during the next several years.

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