Upset over Estabrook spot, Pennacchio ponders future of NJN

Questioning why the state needs to fund a public television station at all, Assemblyman Joseph Pennacchio wants the New Jersey Network to launch an internal investigation of their decision to feature Anne Evans Estabrook on a 60-second public service announcement that has aired about forty times over the last few months.

The Morris County Republican also says Estabrook should resign her position as a Trustee of the NJN Foundation while she is mulling a bid for the Republican U.S. Senate nomination. Pennacchio is also thinking about running.

“I thought it was basically a faux pas. But you know what, I don’t think it’s been explained by NJN to myself or the taxpayers,” said Pennacchio.

Yesterday, PoliticsNJ.com reported that NJN had run a promo spot for its own programming featuring Estabrook plugging three upcoming documentaries. The first 20 seconds of the spot featured Estabrook introducing herself while a camera panned around pictures of her family.

“She gave a biographical sketch of herself. Why was that necessary for the documentary? Who made the decision to put her on the air?” asked Pennacchio. “Maybe she may want to consider reimbursing the taxpayers for nothing else other than her biographical promotion.”

Pennacchio went on to question why taxpayers need to fund the station.

“Why should the state of New Jersey be paying for any channel? This channel owes the taxpayers, not just Joe Pennacchio,” said the Assemblyman.

NJN spokeswoman Ronnie Weyl said yesterday that the spot was in keeping with “information spots,” or “VIP spots” that the network often produces with members of its foundation board, which usually follow a similar format format. Estabrook did not ask to do the spot, but was asked by NJN producers because she hosted a fundraiser on behalf of the Jerry Herman documentary that she promoted. The network asked several other board members to participate in similar spots.

The spot featuring Estabrook was recorded on April 13th, before Estabrook had set up her exploratory committee but while she was actively seeking support for a potential Senate run. It recently ran about forty times and is no longer airing.

Estabrook said the whole episode is “much ado about nothing,” and that she had met with the foundation board as well as several other non-profit boards she belongs to when she decided to explore running for Senate. Estabrook, who has been publicly exploring a Senate bid since January, said that she was asked to do this spot in March by NJN Executive Director Elizabeth Christopherson.

“Why didn’t Joe Pennacchio call me and discuss this?” asked Estabrook. “I stand by my position that the NJN public service announcement is not a political piece. I did not ask them. They asked me as one of the members of the board of trustees to do it.”

Weyl, the NJN spokeswoman, said that she did not see the need for an internal investigation, as the spot did not deviate from the normal way the network produces “information spots.”

NJN receives $5.75 million of its $19.3 million operating budget through public funds. The rest come from private donations. Part of the foundation board’s function is to help raise those funds.

“This is standard practice. We handle everyone on our volunteer board the same way,” said Weyl.

Upset over Estabrook spot, Pennacchio ponders future of NJN