Defending your license, NJ-style


Fox’s MNT/9 station in the New York metro, WWOR-TV, faced critics concerned that it focuses too much on serving: The New York metro. Led by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), they told an FCC-sponsored forum that the station should pay more attention to the New Jersey residents in and around its Secaucus NJ city of license. In fact, Lautenberg’s input and a summertime conversation with FCC Chairman Kevin Martin were said to be a key factor in getting the hearing on the schedule in the first place. "WWOR’s license depends on how well it meets its obligations to New Jersey. It’s renewal time and the evidence is clear: WWOR has failed in its responsibility to serve the people of New Jersey," said Lautenberg. "If it renews the license, the FCC needs to get tough and include specific, measurable steps to ensure coverage of our state." Other witnesses noted that the station IDs itself as "My9 New York," and according to the New York Times, one young long-time viewer was surprised to learn that it was in fact a New Jersey and not a New York station.

WWOR VP/GM Lew Leone made the case for the station, pulling out footage of station coverage of New Jersey news, state election news, and interviews with state officials on public affairs programming. WWOR further cited popular sports programming, including major league teams the Yankees, Giants and Nets, which is very popular with New Jersey viewers, and it also was able to produce supporters within the local New Jersey community.

The station is said to owe New Jersey a higher level of coverage than usual going back to a 1982 dispute in which it moved from New York to New Jersey in an arrangement engineered by former Sen. Bill Bradley (D-NJ). However, Lautenberg and allies do not seem optimistic about preventing the license renewal.
TVBR observation: It’s hard to justify killing a license renewal in an environment where stations running home shopping networks  —  essentially operating as a 24/7 commercial  —  are considered to be serving the local community. And if people are using them to shop, they are serving the community. And so are small stations running old sitcoms or old movies or documentaries about beetles. If anybody is choosing to watch, it’s a service utilized by a portion of the local community. Nobody is going to confuse such a station with a market leader. But can a legislator or bureaucrat insist that a station run out and interview the first alderman or school board member it sees to fulfill its public interest requirement? We don’t think so  —  there is nothing on the books that allows any portion of the government to appoint itself program director. WWOR-TV could get a copy of the New Jersey State Constitution, fling it on the ground and dance on it, and keep its license, just as long as it’s operating at the authorized power for the necessary number of hours daily. That’s what free speech is all about.

However, when News Corporation’s two-TV, one-newspaper cluster (not counting the nationally-focused Wall Street Journal) is up for review, if and when cross-ownership rules are ever legally on the books, that’s when the license may be in jeopardy. Stay tuned. But don’t hold your breath.