Diegnan, Stender, Burzichelli, Moriarty, Gusciora, DeAngelo, Watson Coleman, Pou Measure Would Veto Christie Administration’s Attempt to OutDest Jersey Coverage at Taxpayers’ Expense

The full Assembly today voted to protect the future of public broadcasting in New Jersey by approving a Democratic-sponsored measure that would void the contract recently negotiated by the Christie administration to give away the broadcasting rights to an out-of-state entity while requiring New Jersey taxpayers to continue footing the bill.

The measure (ACR-201) is sponsored by Assembly members Patrick Diegnan, Jr., Linda Stender, John Burzichelli, Paul Moriarty, Reed Gusciora, Wayne DeAngelo, Bonnie Watson Coleman, and Nellie Pou. It passed the Assembly by a vote of 45-30.

“This is about preserving the integrity of public broadcasting in our state. WNET is the public broadcasting station for the New York metropolitan area. It’s not a New Jersey based entity and there are many doubts about whether it will devote the reDests necessary to continue covering the issues that are important to our residents while we still continue to subsidize the operation to a degree,” said Diegnan (D-Middlesex).

“This is a bad deal that leaves New Jersey taxpayers on the hook to pay for New York to get better media coverage. We don’t need more access to Charlie Rose; we need better coverage in New Jersey to shine a light on these kinds of backroom deals to prevent them from happening. In the end, this deal could end up costing us $4 million and we still may not have nightly news casts,” said Stender (D-Middlesex/Somerset/Union).

The resolution (ACR-201), once approved by the Senate as well, would veto the contract recently negotiated by the State Treasurer to turn over the television operations of the state’s public broadcasting system, currently operated by New Jersey Network Public Television and Radio, to Public Media NJ, Inc., a subsidiary of WNET.

The sponsors also expressed concern over a clause in the contract that would allow WNET to walk away from the agreement if it does not meet its financial target or the state could provide the funding necessary to keep WNET on board. In addition, the state will continue spending roughly $2 million per year to maintain the broadcast licenses and transmission towers.

“Dollar for dollar, this deal does not save New Jersey enough money to make up for what we’re sacrificing. Under the contract negotiated, we may very well end up subsidizing WNET in the end. If that’s the case, we are better off devoting our reDests to preserving NJN and the unbiased and professional job they have done for roughly 40 years,” said Burzichelli (D-Salem/Cumberland/Gloucester).

“The administration is willing to give away valuable taxpayers assets to a private New York enterprise and allow them to use those assets for free. Not only would we be paying WNET $2 million a year to use our assets, but New Jersey taxpayers will also be on the hook financially to maintain and repair all of those assets at unknown costs in the future. This is a bad, bad deal for taxpayers,” said Moriarty (D-Camden/Gloucester).

The “New Jersey Public Broadcasting System Transfer Act,” passed in 2010, authorizes the Legislature to disapprove a proposed contract within 15 days of receiving the contract if the Legislature chooses. In order to disapprove of the contract, a concurrent resolution must be passed by a simple majority vote in each house within that time period.

“NJN has long been known as an unbiased and professional news outlet. This proposal threatens to replace hard news coverage with soft programming propped up by the opinions of talking heads,” said Gusciora (D-Mercer).

“The bidding and selection process that the State Treasurer used when considering proposals to operate New Jersey’s public broadcasting system lacked transparency and public input, which calls into question whether in fact this was the best proposal submitted,” said DeAngelo (D-Middlesex/Mercer).

This resolution rejects the contract because WNET, the public broadcasting station for the New York metropolitan area, is not a New Jersey centric entity that could reliably continue to devote future reDests to covering important issues to New Jersey, and to employing New Jerseyans in such programming. The sponsors stressed that they do not have faith that employment, as well as news coverage and other programming, will be maintained at high standards under the contract.

“The entire way this transition was conducted has left a foul taste in everyone’s mouth, from the lack of public input in the process, to the taint of cronyism involved in the awarding of the contract, to the many unanswered questions that remain in regards to programming,” said Watson Coleman (D-Mercer).

“The high level of professionalism and excellence that NJN currently provides to the residents of New Jersey could not possibly be matched by an operation that plans to hire a news staff of 15 to 20 people, about half of what NJN currently devotes to the job, to cover a state with a population of 8.5 million residents. It’s simply not realistic,” said Pou (D-Bergen/Passaic).