Menendez, Booker to FCC: Hold WWOR-TV Accountable to NJans

Menendez, Booker to FCC: Hold WWOR-TV Accountable to NJans

   

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Bob Menendez and Cory Booker today urged the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to consider WWOR-TV’s (My 9) failure to abide by its legal obligations to serve the people of New Jersey as it reviews the station’s license renewal application.  WWOR-TV, based in Secaucus, is the state’s only commercial, high-power broadcast television station.

“WWOR-TV’s failure to provide local news coverage goes back several years,” the senators wrote to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.  “The WWOR-TV license makes clear – and the FCC has confirmed on multiple occasions – that WWOR has special obligations to serve North Jersey.  Yet despite these requirements, concerns about WWOR-TV’s failure to live up to its broadcasting obligations in New Jersey have endured for over a decade.” 

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).” 

However, 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.

“The FCC’s refusal to hold WWOR-TV accountable is unacceptable.  For years, WWOR-TV has flouted its responsibility, and yet the Commission does nothing,” the senators continued.  “We feel strongly that WWOR-TV’s refusal to abide by its legal obligations should factor heavily in your review of its license renewal application.” 

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.

The full text of the letter is below and can be downloaded here.

January 23, 2018

 

The Honorable Ajit Pai

Chairman

Federal Communications Commission

445 12th St. SW

Washington, DC 20554

Dear Chairman Pai:

As you review WWOR-TV’s (My 9) operating license renewal application, we request that you consider the persistent refusal of WWOR-TV to abide by its legal obligations to provide the people of Northern New Jersey with local news and information.

As you know, if the densely populated state of New Jersey had its own media market, it would be the fourth-largest media market in the country.  However, due to its position between New York City and Philadelphia, the state does not have a designated market area.  WWOR-TV is the only commercial high-power station in New Jersey.  Carrying out a law passed in 1982, 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 WWOR-TV license makes clear – and the FCC has confirmed on multiple occasions – that WWOR has special obligations to serve North Jersey.  Yet despite these requirements, concerns about WWOR-TV’s failure to live up to its broadcasting obligations in New Jersey have endured for over a decade. 

WWOR-TV’s failure to provide local news coverage goes back several years.  In 2009, WWOR-TV reduced its news coverage by more than half.  At that time WWOR-TV broadcast 8.8% as much news programming as its peer group.   Six years later, WWOR-TV’s news programming remained stagnant at 3 hours/week, while its peer stations increased their average news coverage to 56 hours/week.   This difference is simply startling.

The FCC’s refusal to hold WWOR-TV accountable is unacceptable.  For years, WWOR-TV has flouted its responsibility, and yet the Commission does nothing.  Moreover, the FCC’s granting of a cross-ownership waiver, belies the Commission’s goals of diversity, localism, and competition.  These goals are even more important given the recent spate of television station “mega-mergers”.

We feel strongly that WWOR-TV’s refusal to abide by its legal obligations should factor heavily in your review of its license renewal application. Thank you in advance for your prompt attention to this matter.

Sincerely, 

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