Freedom of the press and the associated First Amendment rights died in the New Jersey State Senate on Monday, June 27, 2011. The Senate failed to approve a resolution that would block the transfer of the New Jersey Network (NJN) to New York based WNET. The resolution was sponsored by Loretta Weinberg in the Senate and Patrick J. Diegnan, Jr. in the Assembly. The resolution was passed in the Assembly last week.
Primarily a Democratic initiative, there was also an attempt to appropriate the funding to keep NJN alive for a few more months. The Senate was one vote shy of passing the resolution. Senator Weinberg was able to garner 20 votes, with 21 required for passage in the 40 member Senate. Democratic legislators Theresa Ruiz, Brian Stack, Sandra Cunningham, and Nia Gill, who chaired the Committee that oversaw the transfer, voted no.
As examination of a deal between the State and WNET unfolded, several discrepancies and weaknesses for New Jersey became apparent. Originally, the Governor proposed the transfer as a cost-saving measure. However, it has since been revealed that the State will continue to pay millions of dollars per year for the privilege of having New York based WNET report New Jersey’s news. In addition, speculation about the “transparent” nature of selecting an entity to take over for the New Jersey Network arose. Montclair State University, which bid for the right to take over the network, indicated that the University would assume all costs, not requiring the State to spend one dime for running the Network. Furthermore, former Republican Governor Tom Kean criticized the lack of transparency in selecting WNET over other bidders.Finally, the suggestion arose that the Governor may have felt threatened by a public Network that reported the news, independent of political affiliation and free to engage in unbiased journalism.
Freedom of the Press and Freedom of Speech are among the first rights upon which our nation was created. Over the years, NJN proved to be non-partisan in its reporting of the news. Programs such as the NJN Nightly News, Reporters Roundtable, and On The Record were exclusively dedicated to New Jersey issues. In addition to the dedicated NJN staff, the victims in this transfer are the people of New Jersey.
On Monday, June 27, 2011, Freedom of the Press became a casualty of New Jersey Politics.
Dr. Salvatore Pizzuro is a disability policy specialist and civil rights advocate in New Jersey.