Mass Rep. wants less ads in education
By Neil Freese / Daily News Tribune
Tuesday, September 20, 2005
BOSTON -- Troubled by the growth of commercial
advertising in public schools that peddles
everything from snack foods to sneakers, a local
legislator is leading an effort to regulate such
hype during school hours.
"Children are being marketed to at an
ever-increasing rate," said state Rep. Peter
Koutoujian, D-Waltham, who is sponsoring a bill
that would establish an independent commission to
regulate marketing in public schools.
The proposed commission would bring together
teachers, school administration officials, parents
and legislators to rule on how much, and what
types of commercialism are acceptable.
Under this proposal, ads targeted for municipal
football stadiums, school buses or cafeterias
would need the commission's approval before
reaching elementary, middle and high schools.
Corporate contracts, like those signed with
Coca-Cola and Pepsi to set up vending machines on
campuses, would also require endorsement by the
At a public hearing last Thursday, Koutoujian told
the Education Committee that such oversight would
"ensure that schools remain a safe haven for our
But the joint committee expressed concern about
the makeup of the proposed commission. Co-chairman
Sen. Robert A. Antonioni, D-Leominster, questioned
the authority of individuals from the private
sector -- administrators, teachers and parents --
to establish regulations independent from the
board of education.
"Putting my lawyer's hat on, it looks like your
giving them the power to make regulations," said
Antonioni, who at the end of the hearing agreed to
work with Koutoujian on crafting an appropriate
commission with appropriate powers.
Supporters of the proposal claim advertising used
in public schools has been especially harmful to
students because they are a "captive audience,"
and that the growing phenomenon desperately needs
Dr. Susan Linn, a psychiatry instructor from
Harvard Medical School who studies the effects of
commercials on children, told the Education
Committee that marketing to students is
particularly insidious because it bypasses parents
and holds unique influence.
"Even children who don't like school know that it
is supposed to be good for them," said Linn. "Any
product marketed in school carries that school's
But while in-school marketing is blamed for an
array of ills, such as obesity and youth violence,
it's hard to disentangle the effects of one type
of advertising from another. Linn admitted that
marketing permeates every aspect of society, and
that children encounter advertising outside of
school watching televsion, reading magazines and
using the Internet -- activities they engage in 40
hours per week on average.
Koutoujian's efforts come despite a lack of
in-school marketing in his city, Waltham.
In Waltham scoreboards and school buses don't
carry ads. Soda machines are turned off during
school hours, and classes don't carry Channel One,
a daily television news program containing ads
that is broadcast directly into classrooms.
Cafeteria food is prepared in-house -- branded
fast-food lunches like McDonald's are not offered
in Waltham schools -- and vending machines offer
healthy options, like pita chips, baked chips and
"We just don't have that much advertising," said
Dave King, Business manager for Waltham Public
Bill supporters say that each school district is
different, and while Waltham schools aren't
negatively affected by ads, other students
shouldn't be left to protect themselves from
"As adults, we have the ability to filter
commercial images and advertising," said
Koutoujian. "However, we must realize that most of
our children have not yet developed skills to view
advertising as a slanted presentation."
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