Menendez, Booker Introduce the Section 331 Obligation Clarification Act to Hold Accountable WWOR-TV to New Jerseyans

Menendez, Booker Introduce the Section 331 Obligation Clarification Act to Hold Accountable WWOR-TV to New Jerseyans

  
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Bob Menendez and Cory Booker (both D-N.J.) introduced the Section 331 Obligation Clarification Act, a bill to clarify that the special obligations of Section 331 of the Communications Act will still apply even if a station has converted to an ultra-high frequency. This is the case for New Jersey’s WWOR, which had its license renewed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) earlier this year, despite the station shutting down its entire New Jersey-based news operation in 2013, and has failed to provide meaningful local news coverage ever since.

“For more than a decade, WWOR has failed to live up to its obligations to the people of New Jersey,” said Senator Menendez. “This legislation aims to prevent WWOR, or any other station, from using its frequency as a reason to weasel out of its obligations with the audience they serve. WWOR was originally given its license with the condition that it pay special attention to the northern part of New Jersey, but they have continually failed to do so.”

“The recent FCC renewal for WWOR’s license raised serious concerns about stations like New Jersey’s WWOR-TV that have failed to comply with their obligations,” said Senator Booker. “Despite the frequency they use to transmit their signal, TV stations must comply with the special obligations under which their licenses were approved and this legislation would address that.”

In accordance with a 1982 federal law, the FCC stipulated that any license holder for WWOR “devote itself to meeting the special needs of its new community (and the needs of the Northern New Jersey area in general).” The Fox-owned television station shut down its entire New Jersey-based news operation in 2013, forcing layoffs while absorbing some staff at the company’s Fox 5 affiliate, WNYW-TV, in New York City. 

WWOR subsequently replaced its local newscast with “Chasing New Jersey”—now called “Chasing News”—a half-hour, TMZ-style program produced by an outside company.  WWOR now provides just three hours of weekly news programming compared to an average of 56 hours by comparable broadcast stations in the overlapping New York City and Philadelphia media markets.

In 2014, Sen. Menendez cited significant concerns expressed by New Jersey constituents and community groups that WWOR was failing to meet its obligations, which, coupled with a formal complaint by media observers, ultimately led to an FCC investigation.

Earlier this year, Sens. Menendez and Booker urged the FCC to consider WWOR-TV’s failure to abide by its legal obligations to serve the people of New Jersey. After the FCC’s decision to renew WWOR’s license, the Senators requested the Government Accountability Office (GAO) examine the process by which the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) renews broadcast television licenses.

The full text of the bill can be found here.

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