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The Fate of Net Neutrality Hinges on the House

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NEWARK -- On Nov. 28, the Federal Communications Commission will hold a public forum for residents of New Jersey to weigh in on Fox Television Inc.'s application to renew its broadcast license for WWOR-TV 9.

WHAT: FCC Public Forum on WWOR-TV License Renewal
WHEN: Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2007, 4 p.m.
WHO: Sen. Frank Lautenberg, FCC Commissioners, local leaders, media representatives and concerned citizens
WHERE: Rutgers-Newark Paul Robeson Campus Center, The University Club, 2nd Floor, 350 Dr Martin Luther King Blvd., Newark

FCC Commissioners Jonathan Adelstein and Michael Copps will hear from the public and a panel of experts on how well WWOR-TV is serving -- or failing to serve -- New Jersey residents. The public forum will feature an "open microphone" session for the public to offer testimony on a first-come, first-served basis.

This rare public forum will also include remarks from Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-N.J.), a longtime critic of WWOR-TV's coverage of important New Jersey issues.

"WWOR's license depends on how well it meets its public interest obligations to New Jersey," said Senator Lautenberg, who secured the hearing from the FCC this summer. "I am pleased that the FCC is coming to New Jersey to hear from our residents about whether WWOR has failed to serve our state."

Last May, Voice for New Jersey and the Rainbow PUSH Coalition/United Church of Christ, Office of Communication Inc. filed separate petitions to deny the renewal of WWOR-TV's license.

"Any decision to renew the license of WWOR-TV harms members of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition who reside in New Jersey," said Rainbow PUSH Founder and President Rev. Jesse L. Jackson Sr. "In a media system where too few, own too much, at the expense of too many -- we cannot afford to lose an opportunity to give an independent voice access to the public airwaves. Our local members want more media diversity -- not more of the same."

In their petition, Voice for New Jersey argues that WWOR-TV -- the only commercial VHF broadcast television station located in New Jersey -- failed to uphold its obligation to serve local needs. In particular, the petition highlights WWOR-TV's failure to provide adequate news coverage of New Jersey government and elections.

"By virtually any measure -- quantity of news programming, coverage of local issues, level of public affairs programming, even the station's refusal to identify itself with New Jersey in its branding and marketing -- WWOR-TV has consistently failed to meet its obligations to the people of New Jersey," said Chuck Lovey of Voice for New Jersey. "It is time for us to tell the station and the FCC that we need something better."

"The United Church of Christ first fought for and established the right of citizens to hold local broadcasters accountable during the civil rights movement in the 1960s," said Cheryl Leanza of United Church of Christ, Office of Communication Inc. "The role of local broadcasters is no less important today. Most citizens learn about local civic and humanitarian issues from local broadcast outlets. WWOR-TV has a legal and ethical obligation to serve New Jersey."

Prior to 1982, no VHF broadcast TV stations were located in New Jersey. WWOR-TV became the first after Congress passed a law that required the FCC to automatically renew the station's license if WWOR-TV moved to New Jersey and agreed to "operate in New Jersey for the benefit of the people in our State."

"This hearing is an historic opportunity for the residents of New Jersey to voice their opinion on Channel 9's service to New Jersey," said Parul Desai, assistant director at Media Access Project. "Channel 9 -- which has a special obligation to serve the residents of New Jersey -- has failed to provide news and information about issues specific to New Jersey. I hope the Commission takes into serious consideration the voices of these citizens, who deserve to have a station that genuinely serves their needs and interests."

Public interest groups charge that since acquiring the license for WWOR, Fox -- a division of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. -- has overwhelmingly favored New York City news above local New Jersey coverage.

"For too long broadcasters have turned their backs on New Jersey, focusing their cameras instead on Philadelphia and New York City," said Timothy Karr, campaign director for Free Press and resident of Hoboken, N.J. "WWOR-TV is a case-in-point. While based in Secaucus, it bills itself as 'My 9 New York,' ignoring the needs of the people surrounding its broadcast studio. The FCC should stop this neglect immediately and hand over WWOR's license to a local broadcaster who cares about New Jersey."

Among the panelists scheduled to testify at the public forum are Lautenberg; Desai; Lew Leone, vice president and general manager of WWOR-TV; Donna Sandorse, Voice for New Jersey; Angela Campbell, Institute for Public Representation; and Ingrid Reed, director of the Eagleton Institute New Jersey.

"A state as unique, diverse and populous as New Jersey deserves a broadcast television station that serves its residents," said Beth McConnell, executive director of the Media & Democracy Coalition. "As the only station in New Jersey awarded a broadcast license, WWOR must play an important role in keeping residents informed. But serious questions have been raised about WWOR's commitment to New Jersey, and this hearing is an important chance for the public to share their views."

For more information, visit www.StopBigMedia.com/=Newark

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