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Groups Push FCC To Schedule Hearing On Fox Stations Challenge

Media Access Project, Free Presss, Rainbow PUSH Coalition and the United Church of Christ sent a letter to the FCC Tuesday (Dec. 7) calling for action on their long-standing challenge to the license renewals of Fox's WNYW-TV New York and WWOR-TV Secaucus, N.J.

"The commission’s protracted inaction conveys the impression that licensees are free to abandon specific legal obligations to the public," said the groups, contending that Fox has made "material misrepresentations to commissioners and staff, has lacked candor in its statements to commission staff and has failed to..update applications within 30 days of a material change," as required by FCC rules.

The FCC granted Fox a temporary waiver of its newspaper-broadcast crossownership rules in 2001, followed that up with a second temporary waiver that expired, and has since not enforced its divestiture order, the groups said, which challenged the stations' licenses in 2007 on the grounds that Fox should not be able to continue to own a TV station and newspaper (The New York Post) in the same market, and because it had not done enough to serve New Jersey.

Fox has vigorously denied it has not been serving New Jersey viewers. Making its case at a 2007 public forum on the renewal challenge, Fox prepared a laundry list of local service including a nightly, seven-day-a-week 10 p.m. newscast; hourly news updates between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m., weekly public-affairs shows including New Jersey Now (formerly Ask Congress) and Real Talk, employees' participation in various events and more.

"Fox Television Stations, licensee of television station WWOR-TV Secaucus, N.J., has paid close attention to community needs and provided exemplary service to the residents of northern New Jersey since it acquired WWOR-TV in 2001," the company said at the time.

The groups argue that Fox did not inform the FCC of various material changes to the stations, as required, including that after "most" of WWOR-TV's operations were relocated to New York City in 2008 and 2009, its staff, news and public affairs programming were all cut, including one of those public affairs shows and the move of its 10 p.m. news to 11 p.m. and cutting it to a half-hour.

They say that Fox continued to talk about pre-cut newscasts and staffers in presentations to the FCC after those cutbacks. Fox has said that those presentations were describing the license term in question.

"There are two non-frivolous license renewal challenges to Fox’s New York/New Jersey stations which have been pending for more than three years," the groups concluded. "Fox has now engaged in serious misconduct in violation of commission rules and policy. The time is long overdue for the commission to designate a hearing on Fox’s applications."

A Fox spokesman declined comment.