U.S. Senators Bob Menendez and Cory Booker (both D-NJ), along with U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-9), have unveiled new legislation that would ensure Secaucus-based WWOR-TV provide local news coverage.
By John Heinis/Hudson County View
The 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.
“Holding an FCC broadcast license is a privilege – not a right – but one that in turn requires the television station holding that license to provide meaningful local news coverage,” Menendez began in a statement.
“WWOR has failed at every turn to deliver for New Jerseyans and … ensuring a well-informed citizenry is a prerequisite for any healthy democracy. Our bill gives the FCC more teeth to go after stations, like WWOR, force them to live up to their obligations, and hold them accountable to the people and communities they are licensed to serve.”
The bill would requite that WWOR 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 – and consult with local leaders in the market served by the station.
Another significant provision would order 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.
“Local news coverage isn’t merely optional; it’s essential to meeting the needs of a strong and vibrant democracy,” added Booker.
“As WWOR-TV continues to eliminate local affairs programming dedicated to New Jersey, this legislation will help ensure that communities are able to directly advocate their concerns with TV license holders and that the FCC has the means to hold stations accountable to their public obligations.”
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).”
However, the Fox-owned station shut down its entire Secaucus-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.
“Perhaps no other state’s residents suffer from a lack of local news coverage more than New Jerseyans. A broadcast license is public property and a public trust. For decades, WWOR has broken that trust by refusing to cover the Garden State with the attention it desperately needs,” explained Pascrell.
“Our state deserves better. At long last, our legislation will give the FCC sharp tools to force WWOR and other derelict stations to fulfill their public responsibilities. For years, our friend, the late Senator Frank Lautenberg, pursued this issue on behalf of news-starved New Jerseyans. I am proud we are keeping up his fight.”
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.
Menendez and Booker have been trying to hold WWOR-TV accountable for years: in 2018 they asked the FCC to revoke their license, seeking to implement new rules in 2019, and again asked for more local news last year.
This likely played a role in the FCC denying WWOR-TV a permanent wavier in December 2020.