WWOR-TV's nightly newscast was one of the justifications used by Gov. Christie when he shut down the operations of New Jersey Network. Now, with the station's news programming gone, the Governor has refused to be counted among the State's political leaders who have demanded action by the FCC.
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Subject: Cancellation of News Programming at WWOR-TV
Adequate sources of news and information are of vital interest to the people of New Jersey. Citizens must be aware of the issues impacting our State for democracy to be effective. An informed and engaged electorate benefits all of us, regardless of our political leanings or party affiliation. Unfortunately, our news sources are being steadily eroded.
In 2011 New Jersey Network's operations were taken over by WNET-TV and WHYY, and the station's nightly newscast was replaced by a half-hour news magazine. Earlier this year, the owners of New Jersey's largest newspaper, the Star Ledger, put the paper's headquarters building up for sale and threatened to cease operations by year's end. And now, New Jersey's only high-powered commercial television station, WWOR-TV, has killed off its news division and completely eliminated its news broadcasts.
Budget constraints were cited as the reason for the NJN shutdown, and the news programming on WWOR-TV-- a station that was relocated to New Jersey nearly 30 years ago for the express purpose of providing New Jersey's citizens with the news and public affairs programming that they deserve-- was one of the justifications for that decision. Now, that programming no longer exists.
New Jersey citizens do not expect something for nothing. WWOR-TV-- like television and radio stations throughout the country, and unlike wireless telephone and satellite providers-- pays nothing for its exclusive use of the public's airwaves. Instead, TV and radio stations are expected to serve the public interest by providing (among other things) news and public affairs programming to address the needs of their community of license. For quite some time now, the management of WWOR-TV has failed to meet this obligation.
In 2007, Voice for New Jersey (an affiliation of individuals and organizations dedicated to improving broadcast media coverage in our State) filed a petition with the Federal Communications Commission to deny the renewal of WWOR-TV's station license. Later that year, the FCC held a public hearing to obtain comment on the issue.
The people of New Jersey spoke loud and clear at this hearing. We asked that WWOR raise the level of its news and public affairs programming. Against this unmistakable mandate, the station has done just the opposite.
In 2009, WWOR-TV slashed its already paltry news and public affairs offerings by more than half. The station cut back to only three hours of news and public affairs programming each week-- a level amounting to less than 10% of WWOR's peer group average.
Also in 2009, WWOR-TV's owner misrepresented the station's staffing and programming levels in filings with the FCC. It later tried to conceal these misrepresentations, and it has continued to misrepresent the station's operations even in the face of an ongoing FCC investigation.
Now, WWOR-TV has eliminated its news programming altogether.
Senator Robert Menendez and Congressman Frank Pallone have already written to Acting Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn demanding that the FCC take immediate action. They have demanded that the FCC fulfill its obligation to provide New Jersey citizens with the news and public affairs programming that they deserve. While they spoke up, you have remained silent.
This is not a partisan issue. When broadcasters fail to meet their public interest obligations, their free use of the public's airwaves amounts to little more than corporate welfare-- a largesse that is being doled out to some of the largest and most profitable media companies in the nation. If our State could not afford to maintain NJN, we certainly can't afford this.
There is much that the FCC can do to protect the interests of New Jersey citizens. The agency can act to deny the renewal of WWOR-TV's station license, or it can renew the license subject to programming requirements designed to compel the station's ownership to fulfill its public interest obligations. The FCC can also take action based on the expired cross-ownership waivers which allows common ownership of WWOR-TV, WNYW (TV) and The New York Post. (This temporary waiver expired in 2008, and the Commission has done nothing to address the issue. Finally, the Commission can follow through on its open investigation of the station owner's misrepresentations in its filings with the FCC.
It is important to the people of New Jersey that you address this issue in a public statement, and write to Acting Chairwoman Clyburn to demand that the Federal Communications Commission take action on the WWOR-TV station license.
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