To see or not to see - that is the question. The question, that is, about Channel One Television.
The controversies surrounding the airing of Channel One's ad-laced news shows are becoming more heated and in some places students have joined the fray, taking up sides for and against the telecasts.Whittle Communications of Knoxville, Tenn., created the notion. The company offers a supply of up-to-date news broadcasts designed for adolescents. Who could resist? Especially in an era when schools are being accused of failing to help students stay current with the world around them.
But the rub, as Shakespeare would say, lies in the ads that are tagged to the newscasts. A captive audience of teenagers gets a daily dose of hype and happenings, and some people think that's not a proper combination for classroom consumption.
While some parents and school administrators have based their opposition to the Channel One programs on the ads, students in some areas now are complaining about the quality of the newscasts.
Students in Fargo, N.D., walked out of classes recently to underscore their poor opinions of the program. In other places, educators sing the praises of Channel One as a window on the world for their students.
Guaranteeing the quality of the newscasts is one of the inherent problems. The schools who opt for Channel One are buying three years' worth of a pig in a poke, gambling that the daily news clips will fulfill their promise of keeping youths informed of something more than the supposed advantages of buying Burger King, Snickers and other products.
Obviously, it's naive to assume today's teenagers haven't seen ads before. They are saturated with them and the music of cash registers chiming up their sales is proof that the ads work.
The question is whether school is the place to continue the barrage.
Whittle has been making its pitch to school administrators for a couple of years to get Channel One programs before student audiences. The company has signed contracts with more than 4,500 schools for its program, a healthy inroad on the 8,000-school goal.
The hook is an offer of equipment - satellite dishes, TVs, VCRs. Many schools can't resist swallowing it whole. What the "free" equipment might cost them in the end is a legitimate question that can't be answered yet.
In Utah, where educators stretch budgets to the limit in a futile effort to cover all their needs, the lure of such equipment is hard to resist.
The ambivalence Utah's district education leaders have felt as they considered the Channel One issue is reflected in the State Office of Education as well.
George Brown, a technology specialist for the state, recognizes the need for tuning students in to the events around them. Eventually, they'll have to live with the results of those events and take their turn at shaping the course of the world, he says.
But there may be better alternatives for keeping students abreast of national and international affairs than commercial television shows, Brown says.
Cable TV networks are providing some options, without the ads Channel One imposes but also without the lure of free equipment. Cable efforts such as C-Span, the Cable News Network show, will create competition.
In Utah, one attractive alternative would be a statewide communications network linking all of the schools and opening the way to centrally telecast education and news programs. At the moment, it's not an impossibility but at best an expensive eventuality.
In the meanwhile, Utah district officials, parents and students will continue to debate the pros and cons of Channel One. Whether classroom advertising will be an educational flash-in-the-pan or become an ongoing part of the daily educational fare remains to be seen.