With a new regime in place at the FCC, News Corporation representatives have been visiting The Portals to try to move forward the long-delayed license renewal for WWOR-TV Secaucus, NJ (NYC). That also requires renewal of the company’s crossownership waiver for the New York Post.
News Corporation Sr. VP of Regulatory and Government Affairs Maureen O’Connell, along with the company’s communications attorneys, met last week with key officials of the FCC’s Media Bureau and the Office of General Counsel to discuss the license renewal, which has been pending since 2007.
According to a filing in the license renewal docket proceeding (MB Docket No. 07-260), the latest discussions focused on how well WWOR is serving viewers in the State of New Jersey. A federal law enacted at the behest of New Jersey’s congressional delegation in the 1980s gave an automatic license renewal to the station because embattled licensee RKO General agreed to move it from New York City to become the only commercial VHF licensed to and operating from studios in New Jersey.
A petition to deny the license renewal by a group calling itself Voice for New Jersey asserted that WWOR “has consistently failed meet its public interest obligations with respect to Northern New Jersey. Specifically, the station has consistently failed to provide adequate coverage of state and local government, and has failed to provide adequate coverage of local issues in its community of license.”
Quite the contrary, O’Connell insisted in her presentations. The talking points filed in the docket say that since News Corp. acquired the station in 2001 it has broadcast more than 2,000 hours of regularly scheduled newscasts; more than 200 hours of public affairs programming and in the last tow years alone, more than 20,000 PSAs benefiting local charities and residents. “WWOR-TV’s one hour nightly newscasts spend a substantial amount of time covering issues of importance to northern New Jersey viewers, including extensive coverage of elections and local events.” She also noted that it carries the annual State of the State address by New Jersey’s Governor. Weekly half-hour public affairs programs, “New Jersey Now” and “Real Talk,” air each Sunday.
But while playing up how well WWOR has served New Jersey, News Corporation insists that the FCC has no authority to impose any special conditions on the grant of WWOR’s license renewal related to programming. “The First Amendment and Section 326 of the Communications Act prohibit the Commission from interfering with broadcasters’ free speech rights or improperly interfering with the programming decisions of licensees,” the company said.
Apart from the New Jersey service issue, other groups have filed objections to the WWOR license renewal, saying that News Corporation has failed to meet its obligation to dispose of the New York Post within 24-months of acquiring WWOR as its second NYC television station, adding to the existing ownership of WNYW-TV. That temporary waiver was extended several times, but expired months ago.