March 25th, 2002

CNN Student News Will Stay Free of Ads; Revenue Bid Triggered Backlash From Groups

By Matt Kempner
Atlanta Journal Constitution

AOL Time Warner is backing off plans to sell paid sponsorships for a commercial-free, educational CNN news show used in 18,000 U.S. schools.

Critics had slammed the plans as an example of increased commercialism in classrooms. Ralph Nader, Consumer Reports publisher Consumers Union and others recently sent letters to advertising agencies urging them not to take part in the program.

“We understand that this is a hot-button issue, and to put Turner Learning at the center of the controversy would be a disservice to its mission,” said Brad Turell, a spokesman for AOL’s Atlanta-based Turner Broadcasting System, which includes CNN.

CNN Student News has been commercial-free and financially unprofitable ever since Ted Turner launched it 13 years ago as a way to tell students about world events.

Earlier this year, executives decided to begin including paid sponsorships in the program, which would include only the sponsor’s name and, perhaps, mention of their educational initiative or product, officials said.

AOL Time Warner executives said they don’t anticipate the issue coming up again.

“We’re glad that AOL Time Warner has come to its senses,” said Gary Rushkin, executive director of Commercial Alert, a small nonprofit that opposed the sponsorships.

Even inside New York-based AOL Time Warner, some questioned why the company would have put the program’s credibility at risk for relatively little sponsorship revenue. Company officials had said the money would have defrayed some of the costs of improving the half-hour program.

CNN Student News airs at 4:30 a.m. during the week. Teachers tape the show and use it in their classrooms, primarily in middle and high schools.

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