September 13th, 2002
Testimony on Channel One before Texas State Board of Education
By Gary Ruskin
TESTIMONY OF GARY RUSKINEXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF COMMERCIAL ALERTBEFORE THE TEXAS STATE BOARD OF EDUCATION
Thank you for inviting me to testify today about Channel One.
My name is Gary Ruskin. I am the executive director of a nonprofit organization called Commercial Alert. Our mission is to keep the commercial culture within its proper sphere, and to prevent it from exploiting children and subverting the higher values of family, community, environmental integrity and democracy. Commercial Alert has more than 1000 citizen members across the country, representing 49 states and the District of Columbia.
Commercial Alert strongly endorses the proposed Texas State Board of Education resolution asking all Texas local school boards to expel Channel One from the schools.
As you know, the Channel One Communications Corp. shows its controversial in-school TV program, which runs at least twelve minutes in length each school day, to about 5.7 million school children in 12,000 schools across the country. Channel One loans TV sets to classrooms, and in exchange the schools are contractually obligated to show the Channel One program to captive audiences of students.
There are so many reasons why Channel One doesnít belong in schools that it is hard to talk about all of them in ten minutes.
Channel One is popular with advertisers because it helps them to bypass parents and advertise to kids. It is a way for advertisers to sneak around parentsí control over the influences on their own children.
Predictably, advertisers use Channel One to promote to promote products and values that many parents do not approve of. Channel One promotes violent entertainment, such as the movies “Supernova,” “The Mummy,” and James Bond’s “The World is Not Enough.” It promotes crass entertainment, like the movieMonkeybone, which is about the battle between a cartoonist and his penis, symbolized by a monkey. It promotes high-sugar junk food and soda pop to children. It even promotedDude, Whereís My Car? which is a movie that glorifies the drug use of two marijuana smoking teenagers. Schools ought to be a refuge from the noxious influences of our commercial culture.
It is not the proper role of the Texas public schools to abet advertisers in promoting products and values that many Texas parents donít approve of. Nor is it the proper role of the Texas public schools to undermine parentsí efforts to teach good values to their children. Itís already hard enough for parents to raise good kids, given all of the terrible commercial influences on them, from movies, tv, radio, music and advertisers. The State of Texas and its public schools should not make it any harder, by helping advertisers deploy their ads when not under parental supervision.
There is no local control over Channel Oneís programming. Channel One is produced by media and advertising executives in Hollywood and New York. Local schools cannot control it, other than to turn it off or remove it. Texas schools have effectively contracted out one week of school time each year to unaccountable media executives in New York and Hollywood, over whom they have no control whatsoever.
Channel One is a waste of school time. Schools that use Channel One spend one school week each school year on it, including one full school day watching ads. Thatís a lot of time that could be better spent Ė on teaching and learning. One week of school time is far too valuable to throw away. That is especially true now that high-stakes testing is becoming a reality in the State of Texas.
Channel One wastes a great deal of Texas tax money. It is a taxpayer rip-off. A study by Professor Alex Molnar and Max Sawicky of the Economic Policy Institute, titledThe Hidden Costs of Channel One, found that across the country, Channel One consumes $1.8 billion in taxpayer-funded school time each year. That school time should be devoted to teaching and learning, not gazing at plenty of ads and a mediocre TV program. I think many taxpayers get pretty mad, and rightly so, regarding any waste of tax dollars devoted to education. Waste on an enormous scale Ė like the misuse of class time for Channel One—reduces confidence in the public schools, and in the entire system of public education. That can easily affect long-term public support for public education, and the willingness of taxpayers to fund it.
American children are suffering from an epidemic of obesity and soaring incidence of type 2 diabetes. During the last 25 years, pediatric obesity in the United States has increased by 230 percent. Obesity is a serious disease. Complications of childhood obesity include hypertension, dyslipidemia, chronic inflammation, hyperinsulinemia, type 2 diabetes, sleep apnea, and asthma, among many other illnesses. The potential complications Ė especially cardiovascular disease Ė grow more serious with age. Itís also a tough disease to cure. Once children become obese they are more predisposed to obesity for the rest of their lives. It is very important that we prevent obesity by teaching children to exercise and eat healthy food. Instead, Channel One has advertised a parade of high sugar, high calorie junk food and soda pop to Texas children, including Hostess Twinkies, Pepsi, Mountain Dew, M&Mís and Snickers bars. It is wrong for the Texas public schools to do anything to worsen the already serious health struggle that too many Texas children have with obesity. Schools should be making this problem better, by teaching a strong health curriculum, not the junk food curriculum of Channel One.
Channel One consumes school time for watching TV when children should be reading instead. American children watch an average of 19 hours and 40 minutes per week. Obviously, they would be better educated if they spent less time watching TV and more time reading. So it makes no sense for their public schools to devote one full school week each school year to watching Channel One, including ads for movies and more TV programs, when that school time could be spent reading. It would be relatively easy for a school to put together a substitute curriculum that involves reading, not Channel One and TV watching.
Channel One hurts the integrity of the Texas public schools that show it. Every school day, when Channel One uses the schools to promote products, the schools implicitly endorse the products that are advertised. So, Texas public schools have tacitly endorsed the watching of crass movies likeMonkeybone and a movie that glorified drugs, likeDude, Whereís My Car? and plenty of junk food and soda pop ads. In effect, Channel One turns schools into a tawdry huckster for these products and values. That cheapens the moral authority of teachers and schools. Schools need every last bit of moral authority they can get to steer children along an honorable path, because itís hard to do. They shouldnít squander their moral authority for no good reason whatsoever.
Channel One is a very heavy-handed misuse of government power and the compulsory education laws to promote products. This is a wrongful use of the coercive arm of the state. State power should not be used to establish a system of essentially forced watching of commercial advertising in the schools. The compulsory education laws should be used for teaching only, and for not selling. Selling access to a captive audience of schoolchildren for commercial purposes is exploitation and a violation of the public trust.
Channel One has even boasted of using the coercive power of the state to compel children to watch ads. Joel Babbit, a former president of Channel One, told a trade audience in 1994 thatThe biggest selling point to advertisers, lies inforcing kids to watch two minutes of commercials. The atmosphere of the school is an advertiserís dream, Babbit said. [T]he advertiser gets a group of kids who cannot go to the bathroom, who cannot change the station, who can not listen to their mother yell in the background, who cannot be playing Nintendo, who cannot have their headsets on.
Channel One is deeply controversial, and many organizations oppose Channel One or its use of schools for commercial advertising. I donít have time to read you a full list. The National Council of Teachers of English opposes “intrusions of commercial television, such as Channel One, in the classroom.” The National PTA, National Association of State Boards of Education, and the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development oppose commercials in the classroom. In 1999, the Southern Baptist Convention, our nation’s largest Protestant denomination, passed a resolution urging parents “to seek effective ways to protect their children” from Channel One’s “advertising assault.”
Last year, Commercial Alert and Obligation Inc. launched a national campaign to remove Channel One from our nationís schools. That effort was endorsed by the United Methodist Church, Focus on the Family, the American Family Association, Center for Science in the Public Interest, Eagle Forum, Organic Consumers Association, Center for Media Education, the National Institute on Media and the Family, and on and on. Iíll distribute a copy of the endorsers for that campaign. Itís a long list.
Channel One says that it produces lots of good programming. We donít agree. But even if you grant that Channel One produces an occasional good news story, it makes more sense to teach children a current events curriculum that has none of the negative aspects of Channel One. Thatís not hard to do.
So, to conclude, Channel One doesnít belong in the Texas public schools because it misuses the compulsory attendance laws to force children to watch ads; it helps advertisers bypass parents to deliver ads to children; it wastes school time; it wastes tax money spent on schools; it promotes violent entertainment; it promotes the wrong values to children; it is bad for childrenís health because it promotes soda pop and junk food; it corrupts the integrity of public education and diminishes the moral authority of teachers and schools; it promotes TV watching instead of reading, and there is no local control of the programming.
That is why Commercial Alert strongly supports the pending resolution asking local Texas school boards to expel Channel One from the schools.