WNBC-TV New York survives license challenge


The Tri-State “Like It Is” Support Coalition does not believe the news programming of NBC/Telemundo O&O WNBC does a good job of covering the African-American community in the nation’s largest media market, and also took issue with a lack of public affairs programming aimed at the same audience. Like It Is petitioned the FCC to deny the station’s license renewal. The FCC has sided with WNBC.

Among the complainant’s charges was that African-Americans appeared on WNBC news programming only when they were tied to criminal activity, and that this the station provided no counterweight in the form of coverage of positive activities pertaining to the same population.

WNBC argued that Like It Is failed to make a viable case, stating, “a petition to deny regarding a station’s editorial discretion can ‘make a prima facie case’ only if it includes ‘specific allegations of fact which, if true, would establish that the licensee’s overall past programming could not reasonably have met the needs and interests of the people within [its] service area.’”

The station also provided an overview of its own public service record.

The FCC flat out noted that it had no jurisdiction in this case. “Because journalistic discretion in the presentation of news and public information is the core concept of the First Amendment’s Free Press guarantee, licensees are entitled to the broadest discretion in the scheduling, selection, and presentation of news programming. Thus, the Commission has repeatedly held that ‘[t]he choice of what is or is not to be covered in the presentation of broadcast news is a matter to the licensee’s good faith discretion,’ and that ‘the Commission will not review the licensee’s news judgments.’”

The FCC said the discussion of WNBC’s record of journalism is entirely appropriate within the New York community, but that it has no place at the FCC, barring sufficient evidence that would indicate a pattern of abuse.

RBR-TVBR observation: The First Amendment is a wonderful thing. WNBC was able to defend itself strictly on rules, without any need whatsoever to build a case about how balanced and judicious its news coverage is. The simple fact is that you can’t please everybody, and thankfully, in the US, there is no requirement that you must do that impossible thing.

We don’t live within range of WNBC, but we used to live within range of another NBC O&O, WRC-TV in Washington, and its news coverage was just fine – if there was even a hint of editorial prejudice, we were unable to detect it.

In this case, the station is being accused of not doing a good enough job handling a minority constituency, typically a charge brought from the left side of the political spectrum. We’d be willing to bet that as a co-owned entity with left-leaning cable news network MSNBC, WNBC is more frequently lumped in with the rest of the “liberal media” by citizens viewing the scene from the right side.

There is no way on this planet that one station can possibly keep everybody satisfied. Most local broadcast news stations we’ve seen make a legitimate effort to shoot straight down the middle, and if anything, we’d accuse them of excessive blandness. And that’s just fine with us, because a lot of the time, we just want to hear what happened, not what everybody thinks about it.

Thank you, Founding Fathers, for the First Amendment.