WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Bob Menendez and Cory Booker today urged the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to hold WWOR-TV accountable for the station’s persistent refusal to abide by its legal obligations to provide the people of New Jersey with local news and information.  WWOR’s parent company, Fox Corporation, seeks a waiver of the Newspaper-Broadcast Cross-Ownership (NBCO) rule—a measure designed to promote independence in news reporting—that permits the common ownership of WWOR-TV and the New York Post in the same media market.

WWOR-TV, one of the state’s only commercially-licensed broadcast stations, is required under federal law to “devote itself to meeting the special needs of its new community (and the needs of the Northern New Jersey area in general).”  Yet, the station has continually slashed its substantive news coverage in recent years and has since ceased its operational and physical presence in New Jersey when the station’s Secaucus studios were sold and then demolished last year, shortly after the FCC renewed its broadcast license.

“To grant Fox Corporation such a permanent waiver without addressing the news needs of the citizens of New Jersey would contravene the public interest,” the senators wrote to FCC Chair Ajit Pai.  “The FCC’s continued refusal to hold WWOR-TV (and the station’s owner, the Fox Corporation) accountable for its failures to serve the needs of the residents of New Jersey is unacceptable.  For years, WWOR-TV has flouted its responsibility under the law and under its license, and yet the Commission does nothing.  Should the FCC grant WWOR’s request for a cross-ownership waiver, it would undermine the Commission’s own goals of diversity, localism, and competition.  It would reward Fox Corporation with the ability to maintain permanent dual ownership of WWOR and The New York Post even though the company has failed to meet its responsibilities to New Jersey.” 

The senators stressed that any granting of Fox’s waiver request be contingent upon WWOR-TV providing substantive local news coverage to the residents of New Jersey and the FCC providing clear guidance on how the people of New Jersey can determine whether the station has met those obligations.

Before its license renewal in 2018, 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 FCC renews broadcast television licenses and introduced the Section 331 Obligation Clarification Act to ensure that New Jersey’s WWOR-TV and other local stations live up to their obligations under the current law.

Sen. Menendez also submitted written testimony before a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee hearing in June 2019 outlining WWOR-TV’s failure to provide New Jerseyans with meaningful local, news programming.

Full text of the letter is below and can be downloaded here:

November 9, 2020

The Honorable Ajit V. Pai                                     

Chairman                                                

Federal Communications Commission                                         

455 12th Street, SW                                             

Washington, D.C. 20544   

Dear Chairman Pai:

As you review the Fox Corporation’s request for a permanent waiver of the Newspaper-Broadcast Cross-Ownership rule, (the “NBCO Rule”) to permit the common ownership of WWOR-TV and the New York Post, we request that you consider the persistent refusal of WWOR-TV to abide by its legal obligations to provide the people of New Jersey with local news and information.  To grant Fox Corporation such a permanent waiver without addressing the news needs of the citizens of New Jersey would contravene the public interest.

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 one of the only commercial high-power stations in New Jersey.  Carrying out a law passed in 1982 and codified as section 331 of the Communications Act, 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. In 2009, WWOR-TV reduced its news coverage by more than half. At that time, WWOR-TV broadcast only 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. And WWOR-TV has now closed its Secaucus, New Jersey studio (in fact it did so within weeks of the FCC’s most recent renewal of its broadcast license), meaning that the station has no permanent presence in New Jersey.

The FCC’s continued refusal to hold WWOR-TV (and the station’s owner, the Fox Corporation) accountable for its failures to serve the needs of the residents of New Jersey is unacceptable.  For years, WWOR-TV has flouted its responsibility under the law and under its license, and yet the Commission does nothing.  Should the FCC grant WWOR’s request for a cross-ownership waiver, it would undermine the Commission’s own goals of diversity, localism, and competition. It would reward Fox Corporation with the ability to maintain permanent dual ownership of WWOR and The New York Post even though the company has failed to meet its responsibilities to New Jersey.  The current temporary waiver gives the people of New Jersey hope that the station might eventually have a new owner, or at least provide additional chances to convince the FCC that the agency should take its responsibility to review WWOR’s continued unwillingness to serve the state seriously.

We feel strongly that WWOR-TV’s refusal to abide by its legal obligations should factor heavily in your review of its requests for a permanent waiver of the NBCO Rule. At the very least, the FCC should only grant the waiver on the condition that WWOR-TV provide substantive local news coverage to the citizens of New Jersey, and provide the people of New Jersey with clear guidance on how to judge whether the station has met those obligations. Thank you in advance for your prompt attention to this matter.

Thank you for your consideration.

 

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