PUBLIC HEARING NOTICE

September 13, 2010

The Legislative Task Force on Public Broadcasting will meet on Tuesday, September 14, 2010 at 10:00 AM in Committee Room 4, 1st Floor, State House Annex, Trenton, New Jersey.

The Task Force will hear from invited guests and the public on the following topic: “An Overview of New Jersey Network and Public Media in New Jersey.” The Task Force will take testimony on the evolution of public media in New Jersey and nationwide. This meeting’s focus is to learn about the history of NJN and the future of public media in the State. In order for the Task Force to better understand the challenges facing NJN, the hearing will also examine national trends in public media and how public media is impacted by the Internet, as well as the advent of social media.

The public may address comments, questions, or scheduling inquiries to Kevin J. Donahue or Charles A. Buono, Jr., Task Force Aides at (609)984-7381 fax (609)292-0561, or e-mail: OLSAideJTPB@njleg.org. Written and electronic comments, questions, and testimony submitted to the task force by the public, as well as recordings and transcripts, if any, of oral testimony, are government records and will be available to the public upon request.

Members of the public wishing to testify before the task force are asked to bring 15 copies of their remarks and submissions for members and staff.


“NJN Staff Plan to Implement a New Jersey Public Media Corporation — a document developed by NJN staff describing needed changes at NJN”

September 10, 2010

Please right click on link below and download PDF file to view:

NJNPLAN


Giving Up on the Idea of New Jersey?

September 1, 2010

By Bob Szuter | August 28th, 2010 – 9:06pm

          A Legislative Task Force has begun to take a look at the plan to de-fund and then privatize the New Jersey Public Broadcasting Authority, aka NJN Public Television. This comes as no surprise, as the legacy of pecking away at the state funding of this public institution has been a budget-time tradition which started soon after the enthusiastic support of the Tom Kean years waned. 
When the State of New Jersey created the entity that became NJN, it did so because New Jersey’s geographic position between two of the largest television markets in the nation left it devoid of any coverage.  Political leaders bemoaned the fact that citizens were ill-informed, apathetic, and not united by any sense of New Jersey pride.
           Tom Kean was, in fact, one of the first New Jersey Governors to recognize how television could help bring both unity and dignity to a state that had historically been divided by parochialism and tarred by negative media images concocted by outsiders; his “New Jersey and You: Perfect Together” campaign is still legendary in its novelty and effectiveness in bringing the Garden State some identity and pride. 
          Television may be more diverse in its supply of useless info-tainment today, but New Jersey has yet to have a statewide commercial television broadcast station, or a major commercial television network on its soil that provides any informative New Jersey programming.  Commercial media’s poor service to the New Jersey audience hasn’t changed much, and so the mission of NJN is as relevant as ever, perhaps even more so with the contraction of reporters at television outlets from Philadelphia and New York.  So why did the reductions in state funding continuedyear after year, even before the current crisis?
          Since the mid-1990’s, NJN’s government-appointed leadership chose to turn away from state funding in order to follow the “public-private partnership” model.  That philosophy does have value, but only if both the public and the private funding efforts remain robust.  NJN has allowed the public side of the partnership to lapse, much to the relief of a series of Governors and Legislatures who made it look like they were “getting tough” on spending. 
          The cuts were always significantly harmful to NJN’s budget even though the savings to the overall State budget were minimal, but the political points were scored.  These cuts were products of a long-term shift in people’s thinking about public funding and how it relates to public entities whose charge it is to step in where the marketplace does not.
          In There’s More to New Jersey Than the Sopranos (2009), historian Marc Mappen wrote that New Jersey has actually evolved into one of the nation’s wealthiest states.  “The latest federal statistics show that New Jersey has the highest per capita income of any state, and if we were peeled off from the United States and made a separate country, … we would be the wealthiest nation in the world.  The rest of the United States would come in second, followed in third place by Luxembourg.”
          A survey published last year on The Huffington Post ranked the top 15 wealthiest counties in the U.S., and it placed Hunterdon County as having the fourth highest median income in the country, followed by Somerset County (#7) and Morris County (#8).  Despite this very respectable standing in the economic world, New Jersey’s citizens receive no attention from the media marketplace when it comes to in-depth news coverage or programming that features the best of New Jersey, unless you count Jersey Shore or the occasional thirty second perp walk on commercial news. 
          The marketplace is where New Jersey as a state always loses. Again, Marc Mappen: “Why this enduring condescending attitude toward our little state?  … from the start New Jersey was different from other colonies . …  we did not have a major city such as Boston, New York, Philadelphia, or Charleston with their powerful religious, economic, and cultural elites that could boast of their importance in the solar system.  … And split between the New York and Philadelphia regions,  our identity has been shaped by
outsiders.  Ever since Babylon, urban elites have looked down their noses at the rural hinterland, and regarded the inhabitants of those hinterlands, at best, as their social inferiors or, at worst, hopeless rubes.”
          By giving up on NJN and becoming one of the few states in the nation to not support a public television station, we would bring New Jersey back into the media void. The most densely-populated state in the nation, and one of the wealthiest, would have no statewide television to call its own.  New Jerseyans will depend on the kindly and better people of New York and Philadelphia to provide both public television and “local” news, and get whatever those outlets can spare; the inevitable New Jersey putdown or scandal will do. As public institutions and public funding steadily have become politically incorrect, so has the well-meaning “public-private partnership” lost its appeal; now “privatization” is being floated as the new solution. 
          Despite the fact that according to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting 95% of public television stations receive funding from state government, the State of New Jersey is now considering de-funding and letting NJN go to a private group, who will now have to contend with the economic realities of the marketplace and the favor of private funders who may or may not be interested in “statewide” issues.   Just this year legislators in Virginia rejected an effort to defund public television and legislators in Idaho said no to the privatization of Idaho Public Television.
          For years New Jersey legislators and past governors could have been investing more, not less, in this public-minded institution.  Since its establishment, NJN has focused on building some sense of a state awareness within New Jersey, providing news, public affairs, and cultural programming that informs and educates viewers. 
          NJN has provided this service to citizens no matter where they live or what political party they belong to.  No commercial network with mega-bucks can claim to reach all of New Jersey, nor have they ever come close to providing the wealth of substantive New Jersey coverage that NJN has.  (See for yourself: check out the News and Program archives at njn.net.)  In the past two decades, NJN has also produced shows that have been seen nationally on PBS, providing Americans with a fairer, more reasonable depiction of New Jersey to the rest of the country. 
          NJN really isn’t in the television business; it is a public institution mandated to serve all of New Jersey citizens with public television, radio, and media for New Jersey, about New Jersey.  It is an experiment in bringing this very divided state together.  If the State of New Jersey can’t support that mission, who will?  Please take a moment to remind both the Legislature and the Governor to re-think ending this forty-year attempt at trying to change the second-rate status of New Jersey.  
 
Bob Szuter is a Writer/Producer at NJN PUBLIC TELEVISION. Bob has been the producer/director of several acclaimed programs about New Jersey that have gone “national” includingGreen Builders and Morristown: Where America Survived.   His views are not necessarily those of NJN.
 

2008 IRS Form 990 for the NJN Foundation

August 18, 2010

Click the link below to view PDF file

2008-223113097-05112af9-9


CWA Letter to Foundation Chair Doug Eakeley Concerning the Failure of the Foundation to Support the NJ Public Broadcast Authority in Violation of the Foundation’s Certificate of Incorporation

July 24, 2010

July 22, 2010

Sent via email and USPS

Douglas Eakeley, Chair Board of the Foundation for New Jersey Public Broadcasting c/o Lowenstein & Sandler 65 Livingston Avenue Roseland, New Jersey 07068

Dear Mr. Eakeley:

I am writing to you on behalf of our members who are employees of the New Jersey Public Broadcasting Authority (“NJPBA”).  For many years, we have questioned the role that the  Foundation for New Jersey Public Broadcasting (“Foundation” or “FNJPB”)  has been playing in the operation of NJPBA.   It is our position that the Foundation has long reached far beyond its fundraising and support role and has, in fact, constantly attempted to usurp the functions of the NJPBA and the Board of the NJPBA.

These concerns have also been expressed with increasing frequency by members of the Board of the NJPBA.

Our review of the statute creating the Foundation for New Jersey Public Broadcasting and the Certificate of Incorporation of the Foundation leads us to conclude that the Foundation is not currently fulfilling its statutory mission.   Further, we believe that the Foundation is in clear violation of certain restrictions on its activities imposed by its Certificate of Incorporation.

The New Jersey statute creating the FNJPB clearly states its mission:

48:23-13.    Foundation for New Jersey Public Broadcasting established   The New Jersey Public Broadcasting Authority is authorized to establish a nonprofit, educational and charitable organization to be known as the Foundation for New Jersey Public Broadcasting.  The foundation shall be devoted to the sponsoring of activities and the raising of funds for the support and promotion of the authority and its several purposes. The foundation shall be incorporated, organized and operated in such manner as to be eligible under applicable federal law for tax-exempt status and for the receipt of tax-deductible contributions. (emphasis added)

Based on our observation of the official activities of the Foundation, we have concluded that  instead of fulfilling its mission to support and promote the NJPBA, the Foundation has acted to undermine the NJBA with the intent that it be dissolved..

The Foundation  has done this by, inter alia, the following actions:

Recently, and most incredibly, the Foundation has indicated that it is considering withholding  funds from  the NJPBA that were raised expressly to support the NJPBA.   Instead, Foundation leadership has stated that it desires to “bank” these contributions for some future operator of NJN such as itself.   Such withholding of funds from the NJPBA would of course cause significant financial distress to the NJPBA, and thus set up  a pretext for privatization of NJN.  This plan is being considered despite the clear statutory requirement that the Foundation’s purpose is to raise funds for the NJPBA and no other entity.

From at least 2005 to the present day,  the Foundation has engaged in discussions concerning the organization of the NJPBA,  with the prime aim of privatizing the NJPBA.  It has expended hundreds of thousands of dollars of funds, allegedly raised to support the NJPBA, on various studies to bolster the case for privatization.  These funds should have been used to support programming at the NJPBA – the purpose for which the funds were explicitly raised.

The Foundation has hired employees to perform work not in keeping within the mission of the FNJPB,  including educational outreach and television production work that should be undertaken by NJN itself.   Furthermore, management at the FNJPB, particularly Ronnie Weyl,  has sought to direct and supplant the activities of the NJPBA.  A few of Ms. Weyl’s activities in this regard include involvement in labor relations meetings of the NJPBA, overseeing contracting by the Foundation for reports to lay the groundwork for dissolution of the NJPBA, and attending meetings with legislators to seek the demise of the NJPBA.

The Foundation through its Chair, Douglas Eakeley, has forwarded proposed operating and business plans for NJN to the Governor’s office without the permission or approval of the Board of the NJPBA.

The Foundation in contradiction to its Certificate of Incorporation has engaged in a significant and extensive propaganda and lobby campaign.  In 2008, this included the hiring of a lobbying firm, Public Strategies Impact, to solicit state legislators on behalf of privatizing NJN and the hiring of public relations professionals to shape a “privatization” message.  In May and June of 2010, Ronnie Weyl, the senior manager of the Foundation planned, scheduled and held a series of meetings with legislative leaders and key legislative staff.    Ms. Weyl placed a priority on this work and encouraged, with success, board members of the Foundation to attend these meetings.  The purpose of these meetings was to solicit support for the privatization of NJN.

Recent meetings of the board of the FNJPB have focused primarily on the effort to privatize NJN rather than on the Foundation’s fundraising and support mission.

The Foundation has financed various reports to determine the viability of potential new revenue streams with the purpose of using the information gathered to provide financial support for a privatized NJN.   Again, the funds expended were given by contributors seeking to support NJN programming.

Amazingly, a recent Foundation Board meeting featured extensive discussion of whether all  staff of the NJPBA should be terminated or only part of the staff terminated.  It is hard to imagine a topic more inappropriate considering the mission of the Foundation.

Taken as a whole, we believe that these activities and many others taken by the FNJPB reflect a  Foundation’s priority to privatize NJN, and to do so in a way that NJN’s  valuable assets,such as the FCC licenses which are owned by the taxpayers of New Jersey, are transferred to the Foundation or some other private entity without appropriate compensation to the taxpayers.   This is in direct contradiction to the statutory mission of the FNJPB, which is also reflected in FNJPB’s Certificate of Incorporation, and against public policy.  NJBA cannot be seen merely as a vehicle through which public assets are transferred to private entities without appropriate compensation.

As we stated above, we believe that the actions of the Foundation place the Foundation and financial condition of NJN at serious risk. Furthermore, we believe that the development and execution by the Foundation of a significant propaganda and legislative lobbying campaign with the aim of  privatizing NJN  endangers the Foundation’s tax-exempt status and is a violation of the its Certification of Incorporation of the Foundation which specifically states: “No substantial part of the activities of the corporation (FNJPB)  shall be the carrying on of propaganda, or otherwise attempting, to influence legislation,”

Significant  conflicts of interest are also apparent for some members of the Board of the Foundation.  This is because  advocacy for privatization of NJN is in the direct self-interest of Board members. Specifically, Dennis Bone who is President of Verizon New Jersey may benefit in his professional capacity in the event FNJPB is sold to a private entity.   As the operator of FIOS, Verizon has a clear interest in the direction taken by NJN.   Indeed, during the previous administration discussions took place concerning the possibility of Verizon purchasing or using NJN for FIOS.

Finally, it is our position that the usurpation by the Foundation of many key aspects of NJPBA’s  authority, raises  the likelihood of an FCC enforcement action.

As a result of our concerns, we urge  that the FNJPB immediately cease all  study of, and advocacy and lobbying for privatization.

It should also cease its efforts to manage and control the future of NJN and the NJPBA.  Such discussions are solely the province of the NJPBA.  The Foundation must immediately return to its statutory mission of fundraising, support and promotion of the NJPBA.

We hope for a prompt and positive response to this request so that further action will not be necessary.

Sincerely,

Dudley Burdge, Senior Staff Representative

cc:  Foundation Board, NJPBA Board, Legislative Task Force on NJN, CWA NJN Members, Howard Blumenthal, Ronnie Weyl, Assemblyman Wisniewski, Senator Doherty, Sponsors of A2949, A. Pinarski, Weissman & Mintz

Note:  The Foundation Certificate of Incorporation can be viewed at SaveNJN.wordpress.com


N.J.’s high-minded media experiment

July 14, 2010

The ever-beleaguered NJN has a noble purpose.

By Carl Golden

When New Jersey Public Television launched its first broadcast, in April 1971, it carried the hopes of a determined band of activists, including future Gov. Tom Kean. They were convinced that, with its own television station, New Jersey would get the kind of news coverage it was routinely denied by network affiliates in New York and Philadelphia.

In the 39 years since, the network has endured efforts to sell it, convert it into a commercial outlet, relinquish its broadcast license altogether, or turn it over to a foundation or other nonprofit entity. It’s been pilloried as ideologically slanted, and its coverage of government and politics as fundamentally unfair.

The network occupies a unique – some say untenable – position, in that it relies on state budget appropriations that are often controlled by its most outspoken critics. Former Gov. Christie Whitman, for instance, once famously compared the network to Pravda, the government-controlled news agency of the former Soviet Union, in arguing that its state funding should cease.

The network’s future is again in some doubt, awaiting the findings of a commission studying the possibility of handing it off to a nonprofit group. The commission was formed after Gov. Christie recommended virtually eliminating the network’s annual appropriation of about $11 million.

NJPTV – as it was known for the 10 years before it changed its name to the New Jersey Network, or NJN – was created in response to poor news coverage of New Jersey by commercial stations based outside its borders. At the time, supporters of the idea claimed that New Jerseyans could more readily identify the mayor of New York, John Lindsay, than they could the governor of New Jersey, Bill Cahill.

Out-of-state television coverage of New Jersey in those years consisted pretty much of murder, mayhem, and spectacular fires. Public-affairs programming and news of government and politics were virtually nonexistent.

While commercial news coverage of the state has increased in the intervening years, New York and Philadelphia stations’ election-night reports on New Jersey, for example, remain confined to 60-second updates squeezed between commercials for used-car lots and discount-furniture outlets. NJN, on the other hand, remains on the air until results are known for every office, from governor to Cape May County surrogate.

NJN was never intended to compete viewer-for-viewer with its out-of-state counterparts; it was envisioned as a niche undertaking to cover issues that should matter to New Jersey citizens and taxpayers. Its mission hasn’t changed since 1971, but differences over whether it has been successful have dogged its existence from the beginning.

Supporters contend that the network has achieved the purpose for which it was created, while critics say the taxpayers shouldn’t be involved in subsidizing news-gathering. Network fund-raising has produced significant contributions from foundations and corporations that underwrite much of the programming, but expenses continue to outstrip income, necessitating requests for funding from the Legislature.

Although the network has been gradually weaning itself from government support, the opposition to spending millions of dollars in taxpayer funds on it hardens in times of economic distress. The competition for public dollars is keen, and choosing from among various interests becomes increasingly difficult.

Critics also say the rapid expansion of cable television, with its array of channels, as well as the Internet – the same forces that have hurt the newspaper industry – have made public broadcasting superfluous.

Having dealt with NJN’s reporters as a campaign spokesman and later as press secretary for Govs. Kean and Whitman, I’ve had my share of disagreements with the network’s coverage, and I never hesitated to express them. Of course, I’ve had many similar differences with reporters for newspapers and commercial broadcasters. But there was never any lasting animosity generated or grudges held: NJN’s reporters were every bit as professional and capable as their colleagues in the rest of the media.

As the study commission mulls the future of NJN, I hope it will familiarize itself with the network’s history and keep in mind the rationale behind its creation. Compared with the commercial stations, with their news helicopters and vastly greater financial resources, the New Jersey Network is a miniature maple in a forest of redwoods.

That’s no reason, however, to cut it down. Better to water it.


Foundation for NJ Public Broadcasting Certificate of Incorporation

July 13, 2010

foundation_cert_incorp


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