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Report Blasts 'Hidden' Public Costs of Channel One News Program

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On the premise that time is money--even at school--two researchers are claiming that Channel One, the 12-minute, advertiser-supported television news program aired daily in 12,000 secondary schools, actually costs American taxpayers $1.8 billion a year.

Just the two minutes of commercials in every broadcast cost schools $300 million a year in lost time, according to Max B. Sawicky of the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal Washington think tank, and Alex Molnar of the Center for the Analysis of Commercialism in Education, based at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

The researchers estimated those figures from federally collected data on education spending, average daily attendance, and length of the school day.

"Channel One is not a free service; it's heavily subsidized by tax dollars," Mr. Molnar said in an interview. "You have to determine whether the value you get out of it is worth the money."

But Andy Hill, the president of programming for Channel One, called the report "a position paper" with an advocacy agenda, rather than disinterested research.

"It's truly one of the more bizarre studies I have ever read," he said in an interview last week. "If I were teaching a college course on how to lie with statistics, I would use this as the course syllabus."

Assessing the Value

The Channel One program presents a mix of domestic and international news in a jazzy style meant to appeal to teenagers. Launched by media entrepreneur Christopher Whittle in 1989, the Channel One Network is now owned by Primedia Inc., formerly called K-III Communications Corp., based in New York City.

The program, which is produced in Los Angeles, has been controversial because schools that subscribe must require that their students watch it daily, commercials and all. In return, each school receives the loan of a satellite dish, television sets for every classroom, and other equipment.

Mr. Molnar and Mr. Sawicky gave that equipment an annual rental value of $4,000 per school. The value of the lost school time, they said, averages $158,000 per school.

The researchers did not estimate the educational value of the program--a subject on which researchers have been divided in the past.

But they concluded that the market value of the programming was zero, because another television news program for schools, the commercial-free "CNN Newsroom," is offered free of charge.

Channel One's Mr. Hill criticized "the cavalier way" the report dismissed the equipment the company provided.

"You may not be aware that high school and middle school classrooms tend not to have TV monitors," which they can use for other programming the rest of the school day, Mr. Hill said.

The report, titled "The Hidden Costs of Channel One: Estimates for the 50 States," claims that the company makes a profit of $30 million annually.

Mr. Hill disputed that figure but would not offer a different one.

The report includes the researchers' calculations for the average annual cost of Channel One by state, as well as a guide for parents who wish to calculate the program's cost in their own neighborhood schools.

Copies of the report are available for $15 each from the Center for Commercial-Free Public Education, 1714 Franklin St., Suite 100-306, Oakland, CA 94612.

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