Channel One criticized as 'crass commercialism'

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The appropriateness of Channel One's in-school programming was debated during a U.S. Senate hearing last week featuring one of the more unusual pairings of political bedfellows.

United against Channel One were political advocate Ralph Nader and Phyllis Schlafly, the archconservative president of Eagle Forum. They were joined by Sen. Richard Shelby (R., Ala.) in arguing before the Senate's health, education and labor committee that Channel One's daily 12-minute news show that includes 2 minutes of commercials is a poor use of school time.

`MOST BRAZEN MARKETING FORCE'

"Chris Whittle [Channel One's founder] designed the most brazen marketing force in history," said Mr. Nader. He decried the "crass commercialism" of devoting what equates to a week a year of school time--and a day a year to its commercials.

Channel One "urges kids to eat junk food and reinforces their obsession with thinness, looks and fashion," said Mr. Nader, who also criticized federal spending on Channel One for anti-drug and military recruitment ads.

Ms. Schlafly called Channel One "a devious device to enable advertisers to circumvent parents," adding, "Channel One is everything we dislike about network TV in spades."

Sen. Shelby is offering no legislation to restrict the channel's use, but said schools are handing over responsibility for education to an independent company and forcing kids to watch commercials.

Meanwhile, Diane Berreth, deputy executive director of the Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development, which has a policy against advertising in classrooms, and the Rev. Peter Weigand, headmaster at a Washington Benedictine school, both supported the channel.

SPOTS LESS OBJECTIONABLE

The Rev. Weigand maintained the commercials are, if anything, less objectionable than those students see at home.

Former middle school Principal Paul Folkemer, exec VP-education for Channel One, said all of the current events alternatives for schools feature advertising and commercials on Channel One are no different from what kids see elsewhere.

He said Channel One has a waiting list of schools wanting to join and a renewal rate of 99%.

Copyright May 1999, Crain Communications Inc.

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