The Boston-based non-profit Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood is petitioning Alabama school Superintendent Tommy Bice to stop airing programming provided by Channel One in the state’s schools. The group is arguing that the 12-minute daily program, which is shown at nearly 300 schools around the state, has limited academic value and mainly serves as an opportunity to market to teens.
Schools that chose to show Channel One programming are also provided with television equipment and hardware to use as they please — as long as they agree to show the daily segment, which includes news, general-interest stories and two minutes of commercials. While opponents say that the program is a backdoor way to sell to students, Channel One supporters say that the short commercial break is a small price to pay for the use of the expensive equipment, especially in schools situated in low-income areas. They also argue that the news program keeps students abreast of what is going on around the country and stimulates discussion both in class and outside of it.
“There is no question that every show we do has something in it that spurs discussion of a significant event,” said Paul Folkemer, senior vice president for education at Channel One news. “For teenagers to be able to get a daily dose of current events .¤.¤. all the kids in the school see it and conversations bubble up throughout the day about it because everyone saw it.”
The Channel One newscast consists mostly of segments that could be classified as “soft news.” Schools that fully comply with the terms of the contract spend up to 32 hours every academic year watching the program; that amounts to nearly a week of instructional time spent on something of dubious academic value.
“One full day of instructional time is lost each year just to Channel One’s commercials,” the letter to Bice from the director and associate director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood reads. “If students watch the show from sixth through 12th grades, they will spend more than seven weeks watching the broadcasts — and seven full days watching commercials — by the time they graduate.”
Bice has said that he received the letter from the CCFC at the end of last month and is now working in tandem with School Superintendents of Alabama to determine how many schools in the state broadcast Channel One in their classrooms and how useful the programming has been in furthering the schools’ academic goals. Channel One was installed in several schools in Alexander City when Bice was the superintendent there, but he recalled the program being discontinued a long time ago. He said he wasn’t even aware that any schools had an ongoing business relationship with the company.