Menendez, Booker, Pascrell Unveil New Legislation to Hold WWOR-TV Accountable for its Failure to Provide Local NJ News Coverage
As one of NJ’s only commercially-licensed broadcast television stations, WWOR Ch. 9 is required by law to provide residents robust local news, public affairs programing; it has failed
Washington, DC, June 24, 2021
U.S. Senators Bob Menendez and Cory Booker and Congressman Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ-09) today introduced new legislation to enforce WWOR-TV’s legal obligation to provide New Jerseyans with New Jersey-specific local news, and to give the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) more tools to hold the station accountable should it continue to fail local residents.
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 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. WWOR has failed at every turn to deliver for New Jerseyans and at a time when residents are starved for local news as more and more newspapers and other media outlets downsize or shutter,” said Sen. Menendez. “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.”
“Local news coverage isn’t merely optional; it’s essential to meeting the needs of a strong and vibrant democracy,” said Sen. 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.”
“Perhaps no other state’s residents suffer from a lack of local news coverage more than New Jerseyans,” said Rep. Pascrell. “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. 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.
The Section 331 Obligations Clarification Act would require licensee holders under this section to: