YNN gets rough ride at meeting


(5) YNN IN SUDBURY – February 21, 2000

YNN gets rough ride at meeting: President of the Youth News

Network defends the program in front of a hostile crowd

The Sudbury Star

Tue 22 Feb 2000

Rob O'Flanagan

The president of Youth News Network (YNN) is fond of using an old maritime saying when describing how governments will not increase education funding in the near future. ``That dog won't hunt,'' said Rod MacDonald to a crowd of about 100 people at Tom Davies Square Monday night.

But to the largely skeptical crowd who came to hear MacDonald pitch an interactive educational network, the expression could easily apply to YNN in Sudbury schools. Ballots on the issue were passed out at the beginning of the meeting, giving audience members an opportunity to vote on the issue of whether YNN should be allowed in Sudbury schools. One audience member insisted on voting with a show of hands. The crowd overwhelmingly opposed YNN. Heated and argumentative, the gathering began with MacDonald expounding the virtues of accessible Internet- based education and YNN television programming. The controversial programming features two-and-a-half minutes per day of commercial advertising. Members of the audience grilled the Montreal native, and the forum grew hostile.


Sample YNN programs were shown, featuring segments on topical issues such as endangered species, multiculturalism and the farm crisis in Saskatchewan. Public service announcements (one an anti-racism message) and advertisements were interspersed into the news magazine format programming.

But what was left off, according to Katie Hamilton, a vehement opponent of YNN, was the corporate advertisements that are at the heart of YNN. ``I felt that they were leaving something out of the picture,'' said Hamilton, an OAC student at Sudbury Secondary School.

``I didn't see any Nike or Coca-Cola ads, and it's my understanding that these big corporations are major sponsors of YNN.

``From what I saw, YNN brings no original perspective to the issues.'' Parent Mary Hewitt agreed. ``My children have been studying these issues since they started in kindergarten,'' she said. ``If children are spending 10 or 12 minutes of classroom time watching this type of programming, it should be more informative than this.'' Melissa Duggan, president of Sudbury Secondary School's student body, said the issue of commercialization was not addressed enough by MacDonald and his people.


``I absolutely think they hid the issue,'' said Duggan, 18. ``It was omitted both on the screen and in MacDonald's dialogue. But I'm convinced that it is the driving force behind YNN. It should have been addressed further.'' MacDonald told the crowd that his company would be willing to take commercials off YNN if schools were willing to pay a fee for the service. Classrooms are a sacred place, said retired teacher Brian Oliver. ``It's a place that should be kept commercial- free. If these gentleman are as philanthropic as they portray themselves to be, why don't they set up a foundation and work with the government if they want to improve the education system?

``They aren't philanthropists. They're interested in making money.''

Oliver said it is ridiculous to see ``techo toys'' as the saviour of the school system. Skill at surfing the Internet, he added, won't make our children smarter or better prepared for entering post-secondary schools. Sudbury Rainbow District School Board chairwoman Doreen Dewar chaired the meeting. When she brought an abrupt end to the question-and-answer period, tempers flared. The audience demanded more answers from MacDonald, and many confronted him on the floor of the council chamber following the public forum.

Ernie Checkeris, who sided with YNN during the meeting, was the target of numerous parting shots from audience members. MacDonald played down the amount of YNN revenue generated by corporate advertising, saying it would be no more than 15 per cent. But Erika Shaker, an education researcher with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, brandished a document that showed otherwise. A copy of the financial report of Telescene Film Group (the parent company of YNN owner, Athena Educational Partners) forecast 80 per cent of YNN revenues would come from advertising, making it a lucrative undertaking for Telescene. A flustered MacDonald responded, ``That's not accurate.'' The audience erupted in jeers.