Anti‐​Channel One Crusade Is Failing

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Calling commercialized educational programming "parental neglect," consumer advocate Ralph Nader led the charge against Channel One during a Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee panel that convened on Thursday. Rather than recognizing that more than 12,000 schools freely chose to subscribe to Channel One's award-winning programming, Nader called it "a taxpayer rip-off" for its inclusion of two minutes of commercials to the ten minutes of news it shows daily in schools. He also criticized it for giving the schools estimated grants of $25,000 each in electronic hardware.

Nader made the case for a Senate investigation of Channel One in a May12thop-ed in the San Francisco Bay Guardian.Nader's various spin-off organizations have been criticizing Channel Oneforyears. But since the nation's schools have ignored Nader's petitions, hehasdecided that brute force is needed after all. In 1998 a coalition led byCommercial Alert, a Nader-affiliated group, convinced Sen. Richard Shelby(R-Ala.) to call for Senate hearings on Channel One.

Channel One's critics are fighting a losing battle and turning to Congressin desperation because they have failed to get support from the very peoplewho could legitimize their crusade: teachers, students, administrators andparents. Even the education organizations that passed resolutions againstChannel One in 1989 and 1990 seem to have realized that the battle has beenlost. None of them signed the letter the anti-Channel One coalition sent toCEOs of companies that advertise on Channel One asking them to pull theirads, and none of them will be testifying at the hearings. The educationestablishment hasn't reversed its early opposition to Channel One, but itseems to have realized something that Nader and his crowd refuse to admit:the people who watch Channel One want the program, even with commercials.

Schools eagerly sign up for Channel One despite the hostility from groupslike Nader's anti-business Commercial Alert. The estimated 8 millionstudents watching every morning and 400,000 educators, who prescreen it,like what they're seeing according to a three-year study of 156 U.S. publicschools by the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research.

Two-thirds of the teachers using Channel One said they would "strongly" or"very strongly" recommend the program. Another quarter of the teachers saidthey would recommend it, but "with reservations." Only 7 percent said thatthey would not recommend it. Sixty-one percent of principals in the sameschools felt that their schools' current events materials were betterbecause of Channel One's programming. Only one principal felt that thecurriculum was weaker with Channel One.

The anti-Channel One coalition first tried to shame advertisers into notadvertising on Channel One when it was founded a decade ago. When thatfailed, they threatened boycotts. Some states even sued (and threatened towithhold funding from) schools in their states that accepted Channel One.Despite the criticism, the dire warnings, the hysterical attacks, schoolafter school signed up for Channel One's free equipment, news, andcommercials.

The anti-Channel One coalition can't even convince people in their ownstates to reject the network. Sen. Shelby, who called for the Senatehearings, and Channel One critic Jim Metrock are both based in Alabama,where 438 schools (70 percent) subscribe to Channel One. Before turning tothe Senate for a national ban, Metrock and Shelby should convince theirfellow Alabamans.

The anti-Channel One crowd has lost in the courts, in the marketplace ofideas, and, most important, in the schools. Despite knowing thatadministrators at 12,000 schools prescreen Channel One every morning, that99 percent of schools renew the three-year contract, that at least oneindependent study has found that students are more knowledgeable aboutcurrent events after watching Channel One, and that numerous parents havealso seen Channel One for themselves and support it, Channel One's criticsrefuse to admit defeat.

Although it is questionable that the Senate should investigate Channel Oneat all, as long as the senators are involved, they should watch Channel Onefor themselves and attest to its educational value for teenagers. As forNader, his only lesson for the students is: If you find that you arelosingthe battle in the marketplace of ideas, and that your opponents continue toexcel despite your insults and threats, take it to the hallowed halls ofCongress.

Casey J. Lartigue Jr.

Casey J. Lartigue is a staff writer at the Cato Institute.