Should Congress Force ‘My9’ To Focus On NJ?


According to section “47 U.S. Code § 331” of the Communications Act, the Rules that the Federal Communications Commission enforces, it is the policy of the FCC to allocate channels for VHF commercial television broadcasting “in a manner which ensures that not less than one such channel shall be allocated to each state, if technically feasible.”

But, does that language require that station to focus on content for that state’s viewers?

A group of Capitol Hill Democrats say yes, and they want to use the language to help craft legislation that would force a Secaucus, N.J.-licensed station owned today by FOX to turn its attention away from the Big Apple and focus instead on the Garden State.

Introducing H.R. 4208, the “Section 331 Obligation Clarification Act.”

It was introduced in the House on June 28 by the man representing, ironically, the ninth district from New Jersey, Democrat Bill Pascrell. 

It was referred to the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, and on Wednesday (10/6) was one of several items of proposed legislation under consideration.

With fellow Garden State Democrat Albio Sires and New Jersey Republican Jefferson Van Drew the lone other co-sponsors, the bill isn’t expected to move forward. But, there are some who believe it could be added to an omnibus spending bill that would need passage by the end of the year to avoid a government shutdown.

H.R 4208 is replete with legal language. But, what the intent is was made clear during Communications and Technology Subcommittee legislative hearing, “Strengthening Our Communications Networks to Meet the Needs of Consumers.”

FOX-owned WWOR-9 should focus on New Jersey, not neighboring New York.

How so? Congressional legislation would impose a new rule that a station “broadcast local news, consult with local leaders, and make it easier for the public to participate in the license renewal process.”

In theory, that idea may have merit. However, in markets where two, or three, stations converge, enforcing such a rule — one that involves programming — is already raising the ire of GOP House Members on the Subcommittee.

The language of the bill would require WWOR, and other stations in a similar geographical quandary, to air at minimum 14 hours of “local” programming per day. Seven hours of local programming would air between 6am and midnight. And, in a day and age where radio’s local studio rule was eliminated, the bill would require WWOR to have a Secaucus broadcast studio.

Meanwhile, in a move that could happen without the insertion of the local programming requirement, UHF stations would be added to Section 331.

While he’s not signed on, Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J), chairman of the House Energy & Commerce Committee, could do so following the hearing.

Among those blasting the bill, Rep. Billy Long, the Missouri Republican. He slammed Democrats for an attempt to  “counter news programming they simply don‘t like.” However, My9 is not associated with FOX News.

The stronger complaint came from Rep. Bob Latta (R-Ohio). The House E&C Committee’s ranking member labels the legislation as “another attempt by Democrats to disregard the First Amendment, this time telling broadcast stations what type of news programming to distribute.”

While the lower body of Congress seeks attention to the bill, Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J) has introduced similar legislation in the upper body. Garden State colleague Cory Booker is the lone co-sponsor.