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Judge Won’t Ban Channel One, But Orders Trial on Commercials

June 4, 1992

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) _ A judge Thursday refused to ban the Channel One in-school television station from San Jose classes, but ordered a trial before the new school year on whether it may keep showing commercials.

The case is being closely followed by school districts around the country that use or are considering using Channel One. About 7.1 million students in nearly 11,800 public and private high schools in 45 states watch its broadcasts each school day.

Superior Court Judge Jeremy Fogel denied a preliminary injunction sought by the state that would have immediately banned Channel One’s use by San Jose’s East Side Union High School District.

But he said the state’s lawsuit would go to trial Sept. 2 to determine if advertisements belong in television programs designed to teach current events.

″The school now has the burden of proving they can’t do it any other way,″ the judge said.

Proponents say Channel One programs teach students about current events and stimulate them to read newspapers, and that its operator, Whittle Communications, provides schools with high-tech video equipment they couldn’t afford to buy. Whittle gives the equipment to schools that sign up in exchange for requiring students to watch.

But critics maintain that the people who put the program’s broadcasts together want a captive audience for ads for such things as candy bars and cars.

″I was impressed by the content of Channel One,″ Fogel said. ″But when the ads came on, I have to tell you I was jarred. But it may well be it is necessary.″

Whittle, based in Knoxville, Tenn., earns about $630,000 a day in advertising for four 30-second commercials shown during its broadcasts.

California Schools Superintendent Bill Honig sued in December to ban Channel One from the San Jose district. He alleged that showing students commercial advertising at a time when they are required to be in school infringes on academic freedom and violates students’ rights to be free from unlawful confinement.

Joining the lawsuit were the California Congress of Parents, Teachers and Students Inc., and two teachers who object to the channel being required at the district’s William C. Overfelt High School.

The lawsuit said students are forced to watch the channel and teachers have been threatened with disciplinary action if they shut it off.

Overfelt Principal Elias Chamorro said the Channel One programs are a valuable teaching tool.

″We feel that (it) does provide a high quality news program and also covers other topics that are of educational value for our kids,″ Chamorro said Thursday. ″It stimulates the kids to go on and talk about the news and read newspapers.″

The advertisements are ″highly censored by regulations,″ he said.

The only other court challenge to Channel One reached the North Carolina Supreme Court last year. The state’s Board of Education had sought to keep the program out of schools by prohibiting commercials in the classroom. The court ruled in favor of the program.

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