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WNET NJN Deal Prompts Debate about New Jersey Coverage

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Democratic-controlled New Jersey legislature is debating Governor Chris Christie's proposal to have WNET take over the programming of New Jersey Network, the state's public TV station. Christie said the move will save $11 million dollars annually. But Rutgers Political Science Professor Ross Baker said historically, New Jersey public affairs have been neglected by New York broadcasters.

"We certainly can't depend on the broadcast media to cover New Jersey adequately. Unless there is some particularly bloody crime that has taken place in New Jersey, the New York network stations don't deign to cover it," said Baker.

Last week, WNET President Neil Shapiro promised state legislators that Thirteen was committed to a comprehensive New Jersey-centric public affairs line-up.

"We are going to have a board of New Jerseyans who are going to govern this," said Shapiro in a phone interview. "All the editorial functions are going to be in New Jersey. The extent of New York involvement is we can save a lot of money by using a lot of the back office functions we already have."

Democratic Assemblywoman Joan Quigley serves both Hudson and Bergen Counties. She said she is concerned about the loss of New Jersey Network's nightly news program.

"We want live news at night with live reporters out throughout the state, not someone reading off a news wire and than having a public affairs discussion where you are getting second hand opinions," said Quigley.

Senator Frank Lautenberg has asked  the Federal Communication Commission to review the deal. In a letter to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, Lautenberg raised concerns that the current "high quality" New Jersey Network nightly news would be off the air.

"It is difficult to see how the loss of such programming is in the public interest of New Jerseyans -- especially considering the state's lack of commercial broadcast television news access," wrote Lautenberg.

As part of Governor Christie's proposal to get the state out of the broadcasting business, New York Public radio, WNYC's parent, would acquire four of NJN's radio stations.

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