WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Bob Menendez and Cory Booker (both D-N.J.) today reintroduced an expanded Section 331 Obligation Clarification Act. The bill would require Section 331 licensee holders to broadcast local programming, consult with local leaders and make it easier for the public to participate in the license renewal process.

This would apply to Secaucus, N.J.-based WWOR-TV, which had its license renewed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) last year, despite the station shutting down its entire New Jersey news operation in 2013, and has failed to provide meaningful local news coverage ever since.

“As long as WWOR continues to fail to live up to its obligations we will continue to hold them accountable to New Jerseyans,” said Senator Menendez. “This legislation will prevent local TV stations, like WWOR, from ignoring their obligations and will strengthen the role of the communities they serve by giving local leaders and the public an active role in their programming and license renewal process.”

“Licensing the public’s airwaves comes with an obligation to operate in the public interest,” said Senator Booker. “Northern New Jersey has long-deserved local news coverage that meets its need to be informed on issues of public importance. And since democracy requires an informed citizenry, substantive local new coverage can’t be treated as merely optional. This legislation creates a pathway for the type of public disclosures and community consultation that will ensure licensees comply with their obligations, now and in the future.”

In accordance with a 1982 federal law, the FCC stipulated that any license holder for WWOR-TV “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-TV 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-TV 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 Section 331 Obligations Clarification Act would require licensee holders under this section to:

  • Broadcast at least 14 hours of localized programming during primetime hours.
  • File with the FCC a quarterly disclosure of all local programming including a separate list of particularized local content.
  • Consult with local leaders in the market served by the station.

Last 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 legislation would also require the FCC to issue rules to make it easier for the public to participate in the license renewal process.

The full text of the bill can be found here.