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State House Reporting and Public Broadcasting on the Chopping Block
Altaf Rahamatulla on April 22, 2010 - 11:34am
Ironically, Christie has appeared on NJN to share his views on state politics, the economy, and state fiscal plans.
According to the American Journalism Review, state house news reporting is down 30 percent nationally.
New Jersey may be adding to the problem by reducing funding for and privatizing functions of the New Jersey Network (NJN), the only non-partisan public television and radio news source that exclusively covers the state. To that end, as part of his regressive budget proposal and misguided aim to privatize several areas of government, Gov. Christie is proposing a $4 million cut in direct appropriation and potentially removing almost $7 million in other funding to NJN. At a time when private newspapers in New Jersey are drastically reducing capitol reporting, the Governor's actions could potentially dismantle NJN and threaten non-partisan news coverage in the state.
While Gov. Christie has argued, "the state does not need... its own television network," he ignores the impetus for NJN's establishment. In 1969, New Jersey enacted the Public Broadcasting Authority Act after failed efforts to convince private broadcasters to cover state issues. The Legislature additionally found that New Jersey's 's geographical proximity to two enormous markets, New York City and Philadelphia, skewed media reporting in the state. Since its inception, NJN has proved to be an extremely valuable resource for residents, preserving local community voices, and allowing for accurate and reliable reporting on state political, cultural, historical, and economic issues.
Privatization Is Not The Answer: If NJN were to be re-organized into an independent not-for-profit, it will "inevitably lead to pressure to merge services and operations with NYC and/or Philly broadcasters that will ultimately endanger New Jersey content" as a result of economic pressures, according to Dudley Burge, a representative at Communication Workers of America (CWA), Local 1032, a group that has championed NJN's cause during this budget fight. Privatizing the network risks the loss of substantial state assets, such as broadcast licenses, towers, studios, and media equipment. Progressive States Network has previously detailed other problems posed by privatization, which often leads to loss of accountability and public revenue.
Burge additionally stressed, "[t]hey (NJN) believe that with a non-profit in complete control, no-bid contracts for legal work, business advise and more will flow -- to the detriment of actual broadcasting." CWA offers a concrete set of recommendations to shore up the network, including increased dedicated funding and administrative restructuring. Other groups are working diligently on this issue, including Free Press and the AFL-CIO.
Budget Cuts Threaten Statehouse Reporting: Gov. Christie's proposed cuts will only add to NJN's woes. State funding for the network has steadily eroded over the years, creating persistent structural deficits. Other states, like Virginia Florida, Louisiana, New York, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Utah, are considering or have enacted cuts to their respective public broadcasting systems as well. This alarming trend coincides with conservative groups bankrolling media operations to fill the void, which will likely lead to right-wing advocates pursuing partisan ends rather than accurate and unbiased reporting.
To maintain honest coverage of state political affairs, promote community voice and access, allow for an informed citizenry, and provide greater transparency, it is imperative that states with public broadcasting systems find methods to preserve dedicated funding for these programs.
American Journalism Review - Statehouse Exodus
Blue Jersey - Can NJN and NJ News Survive Twin Threats?
Communication Workers of America - NJN Budget, Privatization, Assets, News, and Alternative Structure
Progressive States Network - Critics Resisting New Jersey Governor's Push for Further Privatization
Progressive States Network - Privatization During an Economic Downturn: Still Inefficient and Problematic
Stateline.org - Public broadcasting cuts at issue in Virginia