Tomorrow afternoon, Nov. 28, there is going to be an unprecedented Federal Communications Commission hearing in New Jersey. Concerned citizens and public interest groups have petitioned the FCC to deny WWOR-TV 9’s broadcast license, asserting that the station hasn’t lived up to its commitment to serve New Jersey.
It’s one of the first public hearings the FCC has held to investigate a license renewal of a TV station in decades. As such, this could be a precedent-setting event, empowering other communities to hold hearings looking into their local TV and radio stations’ public service. The public owns the airwaves that radio and TV stations use to broadcast. However, Big Media companies have been permitted to use those airwaves for free — making millions of dollars doing so — under the obligation that they serve local communities.
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Before 1982 there were no VHF TV stations located in New Jersey. The FCC denied the renewal of WWOR’s license in the early 1980s because its owner, General Tire and Rubber Co., engaged in a range of corporate misconduct. When a court required the FCC to reconsider its decision, WWOR’s owner convinced Congress to pass a law that required the FCC to automatically renew WWOR-TV 9’s license if the license holder will move to New Jersey and “operate in New Jersey for the benefit of the people in our State.”
However, all indications suggest that WWOR has not served the people of New Jersey – they even advertise themselves as “My9 New York.”
On Nov. 28 at 4 p.m. in the Paul Robeson Campus Center on the Newark Campus of Rutgers University, New Jersey citizens will have the rare opportunity to make their voices heard about how WWOR is serving New Jersey.
The Case Against WWOR
The concerns of local New Jersey citizens were filed in petitions by the Office of Communications Inc. of the United Church of Chirst, Rainbow PUSH and Voice for New Jersey. Below is a summary of some of the points these local citizens found in their research and from their personal experience. (All facts presented here were taken from research and petitions to deny WWOR’s broadcast license filed with the FCC by groups representing local citizens.)
- In the first nine months of 2006, WWOR reported less than 10 hours of total news programming. Of that, a scant 2.66 hours (27%) was dedicated to New Jersey stories. WWOR rarely spent more than 10 minutes of news broadcasts dedicated to New Jersey coverage.
- According to WWOR’s own data, over a seven-year period from 1999-2006, they broadcast fewer than 170 New Jersey news stories per year. That is less than one New Jersey story every two days.
- Over the course of a 15-month study, only 46% of New Jersey stories on WWOR covered government and politics. In its report, “Service to New Jersey,” WWOR included sports stories to boost the number of local news stories they reported.
- In 2006, WWOR only aired 30 public affairs shows dedicated to New Jersey. The majority of these programs aired for only 30 minutes, meaning that WWOR averages less than 1.5 hours of public affairs programming per month.
- The station carried virtually no coverage of local and regional elections. In the 30 days prior to the 2005 New Jersey elections, WWOR ran only 10 stories focused on the New Jersey election and nine of those focused on the governor’s race. Seven of the 10 stories aired in the final week before the election.
- Since acquiring the license for WWOR, Fox has repeatedly shown that it would rather incorporate the station into its New York City media empire rather than serve the citizens of New Jersey. For example, in 2004, Fox planned to move the bulk of the station’s operations to New York City, prompting an outrage in New Jersey. In the face of congressional pressure, Fox finally backed down and decided to remain in New Jersey.
- A brief look at the station’s Web site is enough to show that the station is now targeting the New York audience, not the New Jersey one. The main station page has a picture of the New York City skyline, with the station’s new name, “My 9 New York” displayed prominently.
- As of today, “New Jersey” does not appear once on the station’s homepage (http://www.my9ny.com). The weather section brings up the current weather conditions and forecast for Central Park, New York, rather than anywhere in New Jersey. The public affairs section gives a phone and fax number to contact the Public Affairs Department; both numbers have New York area codes.