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Southern Baptist Advances in the Culture War

On the heels of a Federal Trade Commission report and contentious appearances by Hollywood producers before the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee, an organization that provides a daily news program for school students announced it was ahead of the curve on curbing the airing of advertisements for R-rated and PG-13-rated movies to underage children.

And the network gave Southern Baptists at least partial credit for increasing its sensitivity to the issue of marketing movies and other teen-related products to the nearly 8 million students in the schools it serves.

Channel One, a private network that airs a twelve-minute newscast to 12,000 middle, junior, and high schools each day, has never aired advertisements for R-rated movies or M-rated games, and over a year ago began to screen ads for PG-13 movies to determine their appropriateness for a high school student-only audience, reported a Channel One executive. In exchange for providing schools televisions and videocassette recorders and a dish to pull down the network's signal, Channel One asks teachers to begin each class day viewing their youth-focused news program.

"It's nice the FTC is focused on the R-rated movies, but what about PG-13 movies?" asked Jeff Ballabon, executive vice president for the Channel One Network, concerning the FTC report and congressional hearings in which the entertainment industry is being taken to task for marketing products that feature "violent entertainment" to children.

"We scrutinize the movie to determine why it has a PG-13 rating," Ballabon told Baptist Press. "If our advisory panel of teachers, parents, religious leaders, and children's advocates decides an ad is appropriate, we will air it; but we will not air ads for these movies in schools or classrooms in which there are likely to be children under thirteen."

Channel One's announcement answered some concerns raised in 1999 by Southern Baptists. A resolution adopted by messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention in Atlanta criticized the ten-year-old school network for its "advertising assault" on students, suggesting parents seek ways "to protect their children" from Channel One's commercial blitz. Ballabon said each day's news show has a two-minute commercial break; he stressed that many of the advertisements aired are actually public service announcements.

"We are extremely pleased with the responsiveness of Channel One's executives toward Southern Baptists' concerns," said Richard Land, president of the SBC's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. "Their forthrightness in acknowledging issues which troubled us is refreshing," he continued. Land said Southern Baptist leaders met on several occasions with network representatives after the resolution was passed in 1999.

Land said Channel One was exhibiting an admirable level of corporate responsibility in which the public's concerns were balanced with the network's right to provide a product in the marketplace. "There are many other corporations, particularly in the entertainment industry, that would be wise to take note of Channel One's sensitivity to its consumers," he added.

Ballabon agreed that Southern Baptists' interest in the network's offerings figured in the network's decision to raise the bar on the products it advertises in the classroom. In the resolution, Southern Baptists, who criticized the commercial use of Channel One programs as an "unfortunate and an erroneous educational strategy," took issue with the fact that parents are unable to monitor what their children are viewing each morning at school on Channel One.

Yet Channel One now provides parents the opportunity to review the daily news program at www.channeloneparents.com along with a posting of the transcript of the day's show. Channel One provides schools preview monitors, "giving each school the right and the responsibility to preview the program to make sure that it's content-appropriate for each situation," Jim Ritts, the network's CEO, told Baptist Press.

And Ballabon said the network's advisory panel of educators, parents, and religious leaders review all the advertising submitted to the network. The ads that are submitted to Channel One are the same ads teenagers and others might see on their televisions at home, Ballabon explained. He said typically ads are rejected not for the product being offered but because the ads' creative presentation is "inappropriate" for Channel One's audience.

"We have a responsibility to provide a window to the entire world in a fair and responsible way for students," Ritts explained, adding, "We take our commitment to educating young people very seriously.

"We honor our partnership with parents who are concerned with the images their children are receiving in the classroom," he said.

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January 2001 Edition
Volume 9, Issue 4
January 2001