Testimony to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions

July 7, 2008 - 8:02 PM

Channel One is a 12-minute-a-day television marketing device forced on a captive audience of teenagers. Children attend school because of compulsory attendance laws, and every day about 40 percent of all 11 to 18 year olds are forced to watch Channel One because their school board signed a contract agreeing to compel them.

The purpose of commercial television programming is to keep viewers' attention until the ads appear, and Channel One is very commercial. It isn't only the tobacco companies that understand the business value of advertising to teenagers. A Channel One ad boasts: "Channel One is viewed by more teens than any other program on television. Channel One's audience exceeds the combined number of teens watching anything on television during primetime."

No wonder Channel One can charge primetime rates for its one-minute spots peddling junk foods, soft drinks, expensive sneakers, and vulgar movies, magazines, and TV sitcoms. Channel One gives advertisers a daily guaranteed teen audience comparable to the Super Bowl.

Most people believe that teens watch too much television. So why are the schools compelling them to watch an extra hour a week (12 minutes x 5 days), which adds up to six days of instruction a year?

Many parents restrict and monitor the television their children are allowed to watch because they consider TV a danger to their morals and values and a waste of time. Channel One is a devious device to enable advertisers to circumvent parents. A Channel One marketing flier promises: "Channel One delivers the hardest to reach teen viewers. Channel One even penetrates the lightest viewers among teens." Of course, that's because schoolchildren are forced to watch the Channel One ads.

Prayer and Bible reading have been banned from the schools because they interfere with the right of atheist children not to have to sit in a classroom where prayers are recited. What about the rights of children whose parents don't want them listening to satanic shock rocker Marilyn Manson (whose song was played as intro music to a Channel One program)? Or don't want them to see clips from Stephen King's horror film "The Shining"? Or don't want them to be pressured to see the gruesome killings in the movie "The Mummy" (especially right after the Littleton tragedy)?

The most objectionable commercials are the hard-sell ads for movies and television shows that contain vulgarities, obscenities, blasphemies, sexual innuendoes, or violence. The ads induce students to see the movie over the weekend so they can answer a question the following week and win fabulous prizes. Channel One even advertises PG-13 movies to pre-teens in middle school.

We call on Channel One to release the list of the movies and television shows it has advertised and also the songs it has forced children to listen to.

Channel One advertised "Seventeen," the magazine owned by its parent company. The January issue featured an offensive question-and-answer column on male body parts.

Channel One plugs its own website, which once showcased a review of an R-rated movie, "Def Jam's How to be a Player," saying the movie contained "such gems as, `A married woman is a player's dream.'" Channel One's website had an Advice Guru who gave the "safe-sex" message and advised a teenager, not that she should abstain from sex until marriage, but only until she is "emotionally ready and in a committed relationship."

One of the most sickening spots aired on Channel One showed a baby's face in the cross hairs of a gun, which flashes away to the sounds of a gunshot.

Channel One's so-called "news" is not selected on worthwhile educational criteria. One so-called "news" segment was a report of an opinion survey that purported to show that parents are now more tolerant of the "drug culture" and that 46 percent of parents expect their own children to try illegal drugs. Should classroom time be allocated to that sort of "news"? Another so-called "news" segment was devoted to the shooting of a gangsta rapper noted for his drug-and-sex so-called music.

The most offensive argument made in behalf of Channel One is that it is free enterprise and that anyone who opposes it is anti-business. What we are talking about here is a government agency (a school district) making an exclusive contract to sell a portion of the school day to a private corporation, that then has total control over that portion, and then forcing children to sit and listen to the corporation's salestalk.

This would be like the school making an exclusive deal with the National Education Association to provide all the teachers, and giving the NEA the power to determine what the teachers teach. It would be like the school district making an exclusive deal with one Textbook Publisher to provide all the textbooks, giving the publisher total power to sell anything they want in the textbooks, and forcing all the children and teachers to use only that company's textbooks.

We pay taxes so schools can educate children, and there is a widespread belief that it is urgent to improve academic performance. It does not advance us toward this goal to remove six days a year from teaching that we are paying for, and turn it over to Channel One's Hollywood studio. It's time to call a halt to Channel One's exploitation of a huge captive audience. Our children's minds and time should not be for sale.

Phyllis Schlafly is President of the Eagle Forum.