CANADIAN ASSOCIATION OF MEDIA EDUCATION ORGANIZATIONS

 

 


YNN Acknowledges Opposition

By Chris M. Worsnop

So YNN has put a rebuttal on its website as if bleating about the unfair criticisms aimed at it by the big bad objectors. Wrapping itself in a breastplate of righteous indignation, donning a mantle of martyrdom, it has painted itself as a victim, made an appeal for sympathy as an underdog.

Who's quaking in whose shoes?

Well, if it's to be a ping pong game or rebuttal and counter-rebuttal, so be it.

Throughout my own rebuttal of the YNN rebuttal, I will incorporate the YNN text in Italics.

Some of YNN's opponents have produced a brochure called "Selling Out Our Public Education System"

Well, I haven't seen this pamphlet, and I have no knowledge of its origin. However, I am grateful to its authors and hope they are enjoying wide circulation.

In a section straight-facedly called "Just the facts" YNN drags the following into its net:

1. News and current affairs programs, provided to schools and funded by advertising are available in Switzerland, Finland, Denmark, Germany and the United States, where over 12,000 high schools are on line.

REBUTTAL But not in Canada. And we will always resist any program that requires students to watch or listen to commercial advertising as part of the school day.

Telling us that programs "funded by advertising" "are available" does not really say that they operate in the same way that YNN is designed to operate - using student populations as captive audiences for commercial messages. Significantly missing from this information is an explanation of what is meant by "funded by advertising" and data about how many schools in Europe are involved. Of course, the numbers are loudly proclaimed for the US (of which YNN is not a clone. See below.)

Furthermore, YNN's argument here boils down to "Billy's mom lets him do it, why can't I?" The only logic in the argument is the logic of populism which can be a very dubious place to go looking for good sense.

2: Among its allegations are that YNN is "cloned from Channel One in the United States."

YNN has studied these models and combined the best educational and delivery elements of them in a format that is Canadian: funded by Canadians, produced by Canadians, for a Canadian audience and sensitive to Canadian perspectives on international events and regional perspectives on Canadian events. Is that a clone? Isn't a clone an exact replica, identical in every way? YNN is not a clone.

REBUTTAL OK, YNN is not a clone. You used the good old, "Let's look it up in the dictionary" ploy and a certain literal mindedness to show that it is not a clone.

So what?

Look up "clone" in your thesaurus and you'll find the word "copy".

For a description of the rhetorical technique used by YNN in "destroying" the myth of cloning, see "straw man rhetoric", below.

3: The same tract alleges that "the terms of the (AEP) contract would impose required viewing on teachers and studentswith students as a captive audience."

The facts contradict these claims: Students are not "forced" to watch the daily news programs. Impartial studies in the U.S. conclude that students are learning more about national and international events as a result of these programs. YNN provides three forms of local control over programming: The school principal or other designated person can review the material before it is transmitted to the classroom. If the material is deemed objectionable, the material does not have to be shown and the principal advises YNN of the fact and the reasons If an individual student has religious or ethical reasons for not sitting through the program the student may be excused to go to other supervised activity. After a six-month contractual period, the school may opt out of the agreement if the programs and technology are not determined to have a demonstrative benefit.

REBUTTAL Let's overlook the use of the word "tract", shall we? We probably ought not to be so sensitive as to call this an "inflammatory" word.

For the compulsory viewing, I quote the YNN website: "Participating schools are required to enter into a five year contractual agreement with YNN. This agreement OBLIGES ( my emphasis) the participating schools to show 90% of all news programmes (sic) to 90% of the population of their school".

ëNuff said.

The argument offered to counter the claim of required viewing is interesting. Data from studies about what students allegedly learn from broadcasts is offered as proof that they are not forced to watch it. Sounds more like a justification of the practice than a denial of the condition. Any high school English teacher would require this paragraph to be rewritten to bring it back to its topic.

As for the local control. Fine and dandy. Show me a principal or a staff willing to spend ANOTHER 12.5 minutes EVERY DAY to preview the YNN show. Let's see, that's: 12.5 minutes to preview it maybe 2.5 minutes of discussion then 12.5 minutes to show it and how many minutes to do the in class analysis (if any)?

We're up to 30 minutes a day and more for some individuals.

Students can opt out for ethical reasons? How about 50% of all the students on the grounds that it is unethical to require students to watch commercial messages during the school day? Where is the 90% criterion then? What happens to the contract when more than 10% of the students opt out? How does YNN intend to handle the teachers' ethical objections? What happens if 30% of the teachers opt out and leave classrooms unsupervised for ethical reasons?

There's a six month cooling off period? Here's a question: why is there such confusion about what happens to the equipment if the plug is pulled after six months? In the YNN promo video sent to over 3000 schools, the principal of Meadowvale SS says that after six months you can opt out and keep the equipment. Elsewhere we learn that the equipment disappears along with the aborted contract. Which is true? If the equipment is taken away, why is the promo tape statement allowed to stand? If the equipment remains in the school, why bother with a five year contract?

Now lets deal with the arguments

4: Some of YNN's opponents have said that "The primary motivation of Athena Educational Partners isÖ. to make money by expanding its market to include the minds of a captive vulnerable audience."

Like publishers of school text books, manufacturers of desks, blackboards and gymnasium equipment, YNN has a business objective to be profitable. As with these other businesses, business success depends on how well the company meets the needs and values of the schools. In the case of YNN, the needs are evident. Cost free acquisition of expensive information technologies meets a clear need. Students receive a broader familiarity in news and current affairs as a context for their broader learning. Corporate motivation for profit does not define the value of the offering. The teachers, students, parents and school boards can. None of this innuendo is true.

REBUTTAL Was somebody paid money to write this stuff? It looks like a deliberate misrepresentation of the argument against YNN and then a reply that misses even the misrepresentation.

Look, the argument is this: we see YNN to be in the business of delivering captive audiences of students to advertisers. Just like TV stations who use sitcoms to deliver audiences to sponsors, YNN proposes to use "news". But it proposes to go one better than the TV stations, it proposes to guarantee who will be watching. Its audience will be a captive audience. That means an audienceto use YNN's contractual language"obliged" to participate.

The objectionable part is that it is the students' minds that are being bargained for. The news program and the equipment have nothing to do with it. They are only vehicles used to entice the schools so that they will rent their students' minds to the sponsors using YNN as a conduit.

One of the best explanations of this was in a recent anti-YNN article titled, "Want Some Candy, Little Girl?" I can't wait to read YNN's rebuttal of that.

This issue has got nothing to do with publishers, or desks or blackboards. Those vendors are not in the business of reselling an audience to a third party the way YNN is. Schools have free and open choice of which books and equipment they buy; and when they have bought them, that is the end of the bargainthere is no five year bond to fulfil afterwards.

Try reading Faust.

5: Critics call the program "unethical". There is an insinuation that, although the program is legal, it still violates community or family values or is hiding some basic facts. YNN's opponents have used inflammatory rhetoric such as "Not only is (sic) the ethics of this mass-marketing experiment questionable, but also the credibility of the company's educational qualifications is suspect."

The "ethics" of the YNN enterprise are open to public debate and scrutiny. YNN has participated in a variety of information sessions and debates and will continue to do so because we understand that this is a matter of public policy at the grass roots level. YNN listens to the views of all stakeholders, and has developed sufficient safeguards to protect their legitimate interests. Unlike some of our opponents, who attempt to prevent teachers, parents and students from expressing views that may be in contrast to their own, we feel that debate must be open and informed, yet civil. YNN has invested in this program in the belief that its offering will be valued by many communities of educators, students and parents regardless of their religious or linguistic affiliation. YNN and the Educational Advisory Council are firmly committed to promoting family values and social advocacy. If the offering is not of value, it will be rejected. If YNN is not responsive to the needs of the school, the necessity of supporting our teachers and providing much needed training and the need to promote student and family values it cannot succeed.

REBUTTAL So YNN is legal? So is tobacco and so is alcohol. We do not allow them in schools, though. Figure it out. We consider YNN's ads to be problematic in similar ways.

So YNN is committed to family values? We are committed to the family value of protecting children from commercial exploitation during school hours.

So YNN is open to public scrutiny? OK, show us the literature you send out to potential advertisers. Show us the language you use to describe the advertising opportunity you are offering them.

We think what YNN is promoting is materialism and commercialism. Family values are not promoted by any organizationincluding schools and school boardswhich rents children's' minds to corporations.

The ethical point is this: It is not ethical to package high school students as a commodity to be sold to advertisers.

We think it is cynical in the extreme for YNN to claim, as it does in its website, that "there is no evidence to show that advertisements have any deleterious effect of students".

First of all, absence of evidence does not constitute proof. Second of all, there is a ton of evidence that advertising has effects on students. Look at the way they dress if you don't believe it. Perhaps YNN does not consider it deleterious for a family to spend $150.00 on running shoes when it can not afford rent. Perhaps YNN does not consider it deleterious for students to be encouraged to eat junk food, sugary drinks and candy through ads they see EVERY DAY as part of the school program. So the discussion of ethics seems to boil down to an interpretation of the meaning of the word "deleterious".

In case you hadn't noticed, this is the breastplate of righteousness bit. YNN paints itself pure white and accuses its opponents of all the dirty tricks. Inflammatory language? Well, yes, we do feel strongly about this. Our discourse may tend to be a little heated. But then YNN is asking schools to take our sons and daughters and rent them to organizations like Nike and Pepsi. That's why we're upset.

Prevent people from speaking? I suppose you are referring to the YNN description of the Meeting at Meadowvale S.S. The official version put around after that meeting was that "agitators from outside" took over the meeting.

That is a plain fiction.

I was there. Here is what happened at the meeting in terms of people's being prevented from speaking.

The principal announced that the part of the meeting devoted to YNN would last about an hour. She then proceeded to occupy almost all of that hour with her own speech (a promo for YNN) followed by the promotional video. When there were only 10 minutes remaining in the hour, she was proposing next to introduce two teachers each of whom was to talk on behalf of YNN. At the beginning of the tape presentation two people from the audience - one a parent and the other a teacher from another school- objected that they did not want to see the video, but wanted to ask questions about the program. The principal insisted that the agenda must be followed, and that questions could be asked in any time remaining after all the presentations. At the end of the video, when the principal started to introduce the two teachers, the same two speakers objected. A third speaker asked how many minutes would be allowed for questions. The principal's answer was that the time for questions was now being wasted. The two teachers were scheduled to speak, and speak they must before a question could be asked. It was at this time that general pandemonium broke out, and it was by no means restricted to people from outside the school community. At this juncture, the principal adjourned the meeting, and then declared that the School Committee would proceed to meet in the library, and that only members of the school committee could attend. School committees are not allowed to hold closed meetings. The meeting the principal convened was an illegal meeting, designed to exclude people who would have liked to speak. Many of those people disenfranchised by the principal's illegal action were parents of the community.

At that meeting I was one of five executive members of the Association for Media Literacy in attendance. The principal would have it that we had no business at a meeting at her school, since the business being conducted was purely local business.

Hogwash.

The school is funded out of Ontario taxes. The funding of the school is now totally in the control of the province, not the local county. Furthermore, the promotional video so vigorously screened as part of the meeting includes footage of the principal inviting others to take her recommendation and sign up for YNN. Part of the message of the meeting was clearly aimed beyond the school. Indeed, the principal has since then boasted of all the phone calls she has had from eager and interested schools. Attempting to limit the discourse to people actually resident in the area of the school is a good device, and nice work if you can get it. But if people see through the subterfuge, and demand to be included in the discussion, it is not reasonable then to accuse them of trying to prevent others from speaking. Especially in view of the way the meeting was constructed so as to prevent any opportunity for debate. By the way, of the five AML members present only one ever spoke. I personally pointed that out to the chair of the Peel Board, who also remained silent throughout the meeting, along with a number of Peel Board administrators. I didn't see anybody there from YNN.

Another example of the deliberate controlling of the discourse can be found in the Peel Board's website, where a series of questions and answers about YNN are conveniently posted for the consumption of the average taxpayer. The page includes no facility for interaction, and nary a suggestion that the YNN program involves any controversy. The questions included are the ones invented by the writers as being the ones that would best lead into the answers they are anxious to have heard. Who is being prevented from speaking here?

Prior to the Meadowvale meeting, the principal announced that the topic of the commercials was not to be discussed. At various other times, YNN has said that it does not intend to become involved in a moral debate, and that it will not get embroiled in ethical discussions. Are these attempts to limit discussion? Are these attempts to manufacture outcomes? Are these ways of preventing people from speaking?

The YNN complaint of opposition critics having their say seems little more than a peevish complaint that someone is spoiling their plan to present YNN in one-sided terms by insisting on voicing an alternative interpretation.

If you want us to stop criticizing, YNN, all you have to do is this:

Drop the commercials from the YNN daily broadcast

Drop the requirement for compulsory (alright, almost compulsory) viewing

6: Media literacy critics suggest the news programs are "slanted" or "biased" and that students would be better off not watching any news-oriented programs.

In fact, these critics contend that all news programs have an inherent bias. If one accepts that the very process of selecting which stories are reported on implies a form of bias, then this is true. However, extrapolating these arguments assumes that the critics, alone, have the analytical skills to deconstruct media and identify bias, therefore students should not watch any newscast. In fact, over 90% of teenagers do not watch news oriented programs or read newspapers and therefore have little knowledge current events or where they "fit" in a global perspective. We fully support the notion of developing critical thinking skills and media literacy, however not at the expense of the students' needs. Our goal is first to inform and promote discussion. YNN will hire professionals in the field of broadcast journalism to produce these programs and will also allow students to participate in the production. YNN has established an Educational Advisory Council comprised mostly of working educators but with parental and student representation. The EAC is mandated to develop policy and advise the company on all matters related to content. Unlike any other news organization, the news director will report to the EAC rather than management of YNN.

REBUTTAL This section starts off to be quite interesting, but then it wanders off onto a new topic unrelated to one it promises to discuss. Another paragraph for rewriting.

Yes, of course, any single news source has its biases. That is why a constant diet of "news" from a single source is a bad thing. Ever heard of the "gatekeeper effect"? Any dolt knows that some newspapers tell the truth while others constantly tell lies. This is just a recognition that we tend to consume news from sources that stroke our own biases. Anything else we call a lie.

The trouble with YNN news will be that students will be force-fed a diet of news from a single source.

An example of the bias of YNN is that it wants to place the student "need" of knowing "where they 'fit' in a global perspective" over and above their need for critical thinking. Some people, you see, might wish to use critical analysis to debate this assumed "fact" of globalism, before proceeding to the assumption that we all need to embrace it.

Trying to move the argument to the issue of whether your "critics" are the only ones with analytical skills is called "shifting ground". If the statement has been interpreted as such, then it is an overstatement. There are plenty people with good analytical skillsnot just AML or CAMEO members.

But . . .

There is some truth in the claim that people who have devoted careers to studying and teaching media might have sharper analytical skills than many others. Of course, if the only credential worthy of respect is the one of making money without having any credentials, then this argument will probably appear less than attractive.

7: Critics suggest that "students who do not want to view the programming could be exempted in the same way as students who for religious reasons do not wish to listen to the national anthem. The comparison implicit in this solution seems to suggest the corporate citizen watches YNN."

This is merely "straw man" rhetoric. YNN recognizes that some students or their parents may have religious objections to the programs and has built a provision into the contract that addresses these needs. Far from implying that YNN represents a secular obligation, this shows that the company respects the diversity of views represented by the population of Canada's schools. In reality, if the students do not find the program of interest they will do homework or other activities while the news program is on in class. YNN is pragmatic enough to recognize this, even when our critics represent the situation as one of compulsion.

REBUTTAL OK, here is where you find the "straw man" reference.

He smiles and smiles and yet he is a villain.

YNN does not mind if students waste their time on other tasks (do their homeworkright!) during the "news" broadcast. The Meadowvale principal suggests that students who do not like to see the commercials have the option of "looking away". So, it appears, the whole thing is a throw away. No need to watch the "news" and no need to watch the commercials.

Then why do it? Why not just turn off the TV? Not allowed. But what's the point in having it on if no-one is watching? The commercials. But what if they don't watch the commercials? They can not avoid hearing them. Turn down the sound, then. Not allowed. Why not? Because commercials are constructed so that they will be every bit as memorable for their sound track as for their pictures. They have to be able to g et their message across to someone who has left the room and gone to the kitchen. The advertisers are confident that kids who are not watching will still get the message.

8: Some of our critics also make the argument that the YNN offering is nott "free" because the company will get tax deductions and these represent a cost to taxpayers.

This argument represents another attempt to confuse the issue. 1] There is no cash flowing from the school board, the school or the parents to YNN for the computers, televisions, networking or news and current affairs programming. The equipment is free. 2] Athena Educational Partners (AEP) Inc. operates under the same tax laws as organizations throughout the country. There is no special status. Surely the opponents are not arguing for the abolition of tax deductions for deprecations. Where would that put Canadian companies and the economy! 3] AEP is presently working on a formula for revenue sharing with participating schools once the capital investment has been recouped. By taking advantage of existing tax laws, AEP anticipates that a portion of all revenues can flow back to participating schools, which could then be applied to other school needs. 4] Finally, the tax advantages are given because they represent an investment in a greater benefit for the future. In the future, the company will be paying taxes at a higher rate than the rate of the depreciation allowance.

REBUTTAL This is the "it is legal" argument again. Remember? I do not recall anyone claiming that any dollars were exchanged.

What has been claimed is that YNN can afford its seemingly munificent largesse because of the generosity of the tax laws. It gets to write off the hardware through depreciation. Essentially the tax write-off is underwritten by the rest of the tax structureand that includes ordinary people.

What has also been claimedand it is significant that YNN has not challenged this oneis that YNN will enjoy a tax subsidy for every minute of classroom time occupied by its program (which YNN advises students not to watch) and its commercials (which the Meadowvale principal advises students to "look away" from). In Ontario, that subsidy amounts to seven (7) cents per minute per student.. At Meadowvale, over a five year contract, with 90% of 1700 students watching 90% of the time over 180 days, the tax subsidy amounts to more than $1 000 000. And YNN is asking us to allow it to use this tax subsidized time to sell commercials for profit.

In summary, then: Ontario taxpayers spend a million dollars to get $200 000 worth of equipment, while allowing YNN to sell advertising at captive-audience rates. What a bargain!

And now, let's discuss ethics.

REBUTTAL It is clever of you to have found a website to offer definitions of ethics.

We have made our ethical stance clear throughout this rebuttal. Advertising in schools is not acceptable on ethical grounds. Using students as a captive audience for commercial ends in not acceptable on ethical grounds. Force feeding students a steady diet of "news" from a single source is not acceptable on ethical grounds. Period.

 


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