Channel One – a corporate offer some Vermont schools refuse

Channel One – a corporate offer some Vermont schools refuse

by Benjamin Dangl

8/29/05

Vermont Guardian

When U.S. public schools run into financial trouble, they can often turn to corporations for help. In exchange, the company might want its logo displayed prominently or exclusive vending rights for its soda. In the case of the news program Channel One, the schools get audio/visual equipment. All that is asked in return is the attention of every student for 12 minutes a day: 10 minutes for the news and two minutes for the commercials.

Now in its 15th year of broadcasting, Channel One is aired daily to nearly eight million students and 400,000 educators in nearly 12,000 middle and high schools across the country.

Vermont’s Mount Mansfield Union High School recently explored using it. Jeffrey Forward, chair of the school board’s curriculum committee, explained that because Mount Mansfield was struggling with its budget, “The principle was exploring alternative ways of funding things. One idea was the possibility of using Channel One. They’d provide all the studio and TV equipment for all the classrooms. In exchange, you have to commit 100 percent of the eyes every day.”

Forward said the programs had youth anchors and were “newsy, there were ads in them for Wrigley’s gum, Gatorade. It felt very similar to me to CBS News.”

Criticism from the community was widespread, in part because of the commercials. “We planned to have a meeting, view a Channel One tape, and then have a public discussion about it,” Forward explained. “But the principal couldn’t drum up any support. He’d had an earful from the community.” The school ended up passing on the program.

On the other hand, Channel One has been used at Vermont’s North Country School for more than 10 years without any controversy, according to Principal Bill Rivard. He described the reception among parents and students as positive, and added, “There has been no resistance to my knowledge.” A small number of staff occasionally do complain that Channel One cuts in on their class time, he admitted. However, “We haven’t had a formal conversation about whether to keep it or discontinue it.”

Channel One isn’t the only TV program the school offers. Each morning, before that broadcast, an 8-minute student-run news program is aired. Called North Country TV, it features student anchors and focuses on local and school news and announcements.

No questions have been raised about Channel One’s advertisements, Rivard claims. He described the commercials as typical. “It’s nothing you wouldn’t see on normal TV.”

For other Vermont schools, that’s exactly the problem. “Many think [Channel One] is a backhanded way for corporate America to get the attention of students,” said Winton Goodrich, associate director of the Vermont School Board Association.

Several states have passed laws banning the controversial news program. Although Vermont has no statewide regulations to control corporate influence in schools, Channel One is only used in a handful of schools here.

Goodrich believes this is due to local participation. “Vermont has much more local control than other states,” he said. “It has more school boards per capita than any other state … Concerns are raised by school boards and parents – they don’t want to give up the control of the school to where the money comes from; so goes the money so goes the policy and decision.”