US Senate News:
Source: United States Senator for New Jersey Bob Menendez
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Congressman Bill Pascrell, Jr. (N.J.-09) today applauded an announcement by the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology that it will hold a hearing on Strengthening Our Communications Networks to Meet the Needs of Consumers. The October 5, 2021 hearing will highlight legislation offered by Pascrell and Menendez to hold station WWOR-TV accountable for failing to provide local New Jersey coverage, in likely violation of its Federal Communications Commission (FCC) license.
“Holding an FCC broadcast license is a sacred trust requiring that its holder offer local coverage to its market,” said Sen. Menendez and Rep. Pascrell. “WWOR’s steadfast refusal to air local coverage to New Jersey is a flagrant violation of that trust. This problem dates back decades and is one our colleague and friend Sen. Frank Lautenberg worked so hard to fix. Our bicameral legislation will finally force WWOR to provide local news coverage to Garden Staters. So many challenges to American democracy can be traced to the damaging decline of local news. We thank Chairman Doyle and Chairman Pallone for helping shine a light on local media challenges and look forward to this hearing.”
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).” But the Fox-owned station shut down its entire Secaucus, N.J.-based news operation in 2013, and currently offers zero local news programming and only one half-hour a week of public affairs. By comparison, broadcast stations in the overlapping New York City and Philadelphia media markets broadcast an average of 56 hours of weekly news and public affairs.
The lawmaker’s Section 331 Obligation Clarification Act would require Section 331 licensee holders, like WWOR-TV, to broadcast local news programming, consult with local leaders, and make it easier for the public to participate in the license renewal process.
WWOR-TV currently does not carry or produce a daily local newscast. When the station shut down its news operation eight years ago, it initially replaced its local newscast with “Chasing New Jersey,” a half-hour-long, TMZ-style program produced by an outside company. It later rebranded itself “Chasing News,” stripping New Jersey from its name, and then subsequently ceased operation in June 2020.
The Menendez-Pascrell legislation will 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; and it
· Orders the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to issue a report that examines the process by which the FCC renews broadcast television licenses, and specifically to determine if that process adequately holds Section 331 broadcast television stations accountable to their statutory or license obligations.
Sen. Menendez and Rep. Pascrell have picked up the mantle of Sen. Lautenberg’s fight to hold WWOR accountable. On July 7, 2021, the members published an op-ed in the New York Daily News highlighting New Jersey’s long-barren broadcast news landscape and discussing WWOR’s decades of dereliction.