Channel One, the satellite network beamed into middle and high school classes around the country, would be banned from schools in a Portland, Ore., school district under a lawsuit brought by a father who objects to two minutes of commercials shown during class time. The service provides schools with free televisions and other equipment in exchange for airing its programming.
Gary Boyes says the 12-minute television segments are aired each day to a wide-eyed audience of students trapped in their classrooms and include ads for snack foods, soft drinks, and movies.
By the end of the school year, students will have watched the equivalent of five full days of Channel One programming, days that could be used for instruction at a time when the state is already slicing instruction time because of budget cuts, Boyes said.
“Most parents actually believe Channel One has something to do with school,” Boyes said. “It’s a commercial interest occupying the public school.”
The satellite network provides daily news and entertainment programming to 12,000 schools across the country, with an estimated audience of 8 million children a day. A Channel One web site says programs show news geared toward teenagers and interviews with young people in other parts of the world.
Twelve of the 17 middle and high schools in Oregon’s Salem-Keizer School District show Channel One, said district spokeswoman Mary Paulson. Individual principals reportedly decide whether to show Channel One based on educational value. Because so many of them have the channel, there must be value, Paulson said, adding, “We stand by the principals’ decisions.”
A similar objection to Channel One was brought before the Texas Board of Education last November and was voted down. Board members there noted that children are exposed to advertising in a variety of other ways at school, including over the internet and through newspapers and magazines provided in classrooms and school libraries.
Boyes filed the suit April 17 on behalf of his two children. It asks the school district to void contracts providing televisions, VCRs, and video cameras to schools in exchange for obliging students to watch the 12-minute segment on 90 percent of school days.
The suit argues that time spent watching commercials deprives children of a right to an education under the Oregon Constitution. It also objects to the Salem-Keizer district accepting more than $5,000 worth of television sets without an open bidding process.
San Jose’s Overfelt High School, the first California public high school to contract with Channel One, spent six years fighting a similar lawsuit for its decision to accept the service. Although a California judge ruled that schools in that state could continue to contract with Channel One, Overfelt ultimately cancelled the service in 1996, caving in to pressure from activists who opposed the commercialization of the classroom.