California, New York Move To Bar ‘Channel 1'

By Mark Walsh — May 31, 1989 2 min read

State officials in California and New York are taking steps to bar their state’s high schools from showing Whittle Communications’ proposed “Channel One” television news show.

Lawyers for the California public-school system have determined that schools receiving public funds cannot show news programs that carry paid advertising, as the Whittle program does.

“We are given these kids in trust; we can’t sell access to them,” said Bill Honig, California’s superintendent of public instruction.

In a legal advisory, state education officials say time spent by pupils viewing commercials on the show would not count toward instructional time, meaning districts could lose state aid for the program’s 10 minutes per week of ads.

And in a legal opinion requested by the New York State Board of Regents, the board’s counsel concluded that such commercial ventures in the schools probably violate state law, including a constitutional provision against the gift or loan of school property for personal gain.

At its May 19 meeting, the board discussed adopting regulations or guidelines that would forbid schools to show programs with paid advertisements. It delayed the matter until next month to give Whittle officials a chance to make a presentation.

Robert E. Diaz, the legal counsel for the New York board, noted in his statement that state law requires that all potential vendors be given an opportunity to provide services, and it bars school employees from participating in sales or solicitations.

“Because of the immense private benefits flowing from the Whittle broadcast, the right to offer commercial television services to the schools should be available to the whole business community,” Mr. Diaz said.

Whittle officials will appear before the New York board of regents on June 16, said Chris Carpenter, a spokesman for the education department.

This spring, the Knoxville, Tenn., media company pilot-tested its 12-minute news show for teenagers at six junior and senior high schools across the country, including one in California but8none in New York.

In exchange for a donation of a satellite dish, television monitors, and other equipment, the schools agreed to require students to view the daily program, which includes two minutes of commercials. The advertising element has sparked intense criticism from many national educational groups.

Whittle will decide this summer whether to begin broadcasting the program nationally at the start of the 1990-91 school year. The exclusion of California and New York’s extremely large high-school populations from the audience would be a blow to the company’s efforts to create as large a market as possible for advertisers.

Whittle officials said the states’ actions were premature because the firm has not decided whether to go ahead with the program. They also said they would attempt to demonstrate to state officials the show’s educational value.

“We have to work with the state board and explain who we are and what we are doing,” said David Jarrard, a Whittle spokesman. “We have yet to even decide completely whether we are going to do [the program] or not.”

A version of this article appeared in the May 31, 1989 edition of Education Week as California, New York Move To Bar ‘Channel 1'