NDP wants gov't to stop commercial TV plan

The Halifax Daily News- February 27, 1999

By PETER McLAUGHLIN -- The Daily News

The Youth News Network, which wants to show commercial TV to students, has no place in Nova Scotia classrooms, says NDP education critic Eileen O'Connell.

The Opposition MLA yesterday called on the province todeclare where it stands on YNN and its controversial plan to broadcast a daily 12-minute commercially sponsored current-affairs newscast to high school students beginning this fall.

O'Connell wrote Education Minister Wayne Gaudet this week asking whether the department supports the use of class time to show commercial advertising to students, whose attendance at school is compulsory.

"If the government endorses, or refuses to obstruct YNN, then it will be clear everything is for sale in Nova Scotia schools - even our children,'' she said.

Athena Educational Partners Inc. of Montreal is offering schools millions of dollars in free computers, TVs, and satellite technology in exchange for access to students, who would be obligated to watch the YNN newscasts every day during class time.

YNN president Rod MacDonald met with Deputy Minister Lloyd Gillis last week, officially informing the province his company would once again try to sign up Nova Scotia high schools to five-year contracts.

So far at least one school board, Halifax regional school board, has told principals not to sign any deals with YNN.

The Montreal-based company tried to get its programming in schools six years ago, but was shunned after intense opposition from school boards, home and school associations, and media literacy groups.

But it's back again, sensing a more private-sector friendlyattitude on the part of government. This time around, YNN is sweetening the offer with lucrative revenue-sharing arrangements for schools. The company is proposing using school-based broadcast and computer facilities as distance-learning centres that would offer courses after hours for a fee. Revenue generated from the centres would be split with cash-starved schools.

The Education Department has not taken a position on the issue yet.

Department spokeswoman Donna MacDonald said the Minister will discuss the proposal with staff and school boards in the weeks ahead.

O'Connell said she welcomes the coming debate on YNN, because it will focus attention on corporate agenda and its placein schools. To her it's clear: "Schools are not places where companies should be allowed to market to students."

She called on Gaudet to create a policy clearly defining the limits to be placed on business partnerships with public schools and public education.