Legislators and watchdog groups in New Jersey have long complained that their major licensed television station, WWOR Secaucus NJ behaves like a New York City station and gives their state short shrift when it comes to news and public affairs programming. Now the FCC is looking into allegations that licensee Fox Television Stations misrepresented the stations operations in a 2009 FCC ex parte meeting.
Fox explained that it filed a summary of the 8/25/09 meeting, inadvertently using a template document it had used for prior similar meetings, and admits that the information “may have been confusing.”
But watchdog Voice for New Jersey alleges that “…Fox misrepresented the quantity of local New Jersey news and public affairs programming broadcast by WWOR-TV after July 2009 as well as the number of employees who worked at WWOR-TV’s Secaucus, New Jersey facility during that same period.”
Fox said that changes at the station should have led it to make certain statements on the 8/26/09 summary in the past tense, and also claims that corrections were made appropriately, and that there was no intent or motivation for it to attempt to deceive the Commission.
Media Bureau Chief William Lake has given Fox 30 days to respond to a series of questions under penalty of perjury. One big discrepancy it wants cleared up is an 8/26/09 that there were over 250 persons employed at the Secaucus facility, followed by a 1/5/10 letter saying that over 75 persons were employed there. Lake is seeking information going back to June 2007.
In an 11/27/09 letter, VNJ said that WWOR had drastically cut back on news and info programming and “gutted” its local staffing. A glance at the station’s website shows half-hour news program running M-F 11PM-11:30. and a program running Sunday 12N-12:30PM called “New Jersey Now.”
Sen. Frank Lautenberg hailed the FCC action. “The FCC has called on Fox to come clean about cutbacks to its New Jersey operation. The license renewal application has been pending for years, and it’s far past time that we get to the bottom of this issue. Channel 9 is required by law to cover New Jersey news, but when you turn on the TV all you hear is what’s happening in another state. Time and again, Fox refuses to provide adequate coverage of issues important to New Jersey families and our local communities. This issue must be resolved quickly so that New Jerseyans can finally have access to news about their communities and issues that impact their lives.”
Lautenberg is a member of the Senate Commerce Committee, where he has consistently been a strong advocate for the special broadcast needs of his state, situated as it is between two major media markets – New York and Philadelphia – that are in different states. New Jersey lacks a Nielsen DMA to call its own.
WWOR’s license renewal has been under review since 2007.
Fox is convinced that it has done nothing wrong and that the process will vindicate it.