YNN Ads to reach kids in Grade:
Children too young to weigh content, critics charge

By Nick Martin
Education Reporter, Winnipeg Free Press. July 1999

Kids as young as Grade 5 will be watching the controversial Youth News Network television commercials in their classrooms next fall in exchange for a donation of technology. YNN told Manitoba education officials last month it wants to sign up junior high or high schools with a minimum of 300 students. But Turtle River School Division is allowing Athena Educational Partners to show its daily YNN newscasts and commercials to grades 5 to 12 in its four K-12 schools this fall - even though none meet Athena's enrolment minimum.

"All our communities wanted it. Our communities felt news was good for kids. I negotiated with the company, and they agreed they would do it as a favour to us," superintendent Joseph Mudry said from McCreary. "I don't think it's a great thing to do," said Child Guidance Clinic director Rudy Ambtman. While exposing children to news may have benefits, grades 5 and 6 are too young for commercials, he said in a recent interview.

"Until junior high, high school, you don't have kids with the ability to distance themselves, to look at things more critically. The real question is a moral one: Are we willing to sell our kids to commercial interests?" said Ambtman.

Athena has promised to have its YNN programming in 50 Canadian schools by fall, but as of last week, company president Rod MacDonald listed only 15.

MacDonald said Athena is making an enrolment exception for Turtle River to see if four small schools can be networked to achieve the same results as one big school. "We've got some other school boards in Saskatchewan with the same issues," he pointed out.

But Manitoba Teachers' Society president Jan Speelman scoffed that Athena is waiving its criteria because it's desperate to get signed contracts. "He's had to lower his standards considerably. He's desperate to sign on whoever he can sign on," Speelman said. "Now you're talking about 10year-olds. They're too young to understand the politics of advertising."

MacDonald said each of the four Turtle River schools will get a rooftop satellite dish, and there'll be a VCR and 27-inch television for each participating school. However, instead of building a 25-terminal computer lab in each school, Athena will give Turtle River 30 computers and let trustees allocate them, he said. Athena has the rights to use the labs evenings and weekends to sell distance education.

Including students in all grades, Glenella School has 115 children, Alonsa School 150, McCreary School 200, and Ste. Rose School 350, Mudry said. Sanford Collegiate and Kildonan East Collegiate have signed contracts. MacDonald said from Montreal that at least three additional Manitoba school divisions will likely sign up within a couple of weeks, and up to five more in the fall, but wouldn't identify them.

Mudry said Turtle River is still working out details, but will sign a contract soon. Teachers will watch the YNN newscast before school each day decide whether to use any or all of it that day in each class, and how they will incorporate its content into lesson plans, he said.