In two decisions released this week by the FCC, here and here, two large broadcast group owners were admonished for failures to comply with the FCC’s EEO rules. In both cases, failures to widely disseminate information about job openings in one market were discovered by the FCC in the course of random EEO audits that selected these stations for review. In both cases, the Commission determined that the violations were serious, and imposed reporting conditions (essentially subjecting the stations to an FCC audit of their EEO annual public file reports every year for the next 3 years). And in each case, the FCC would have fined the stations for their violations, but the Commission moved too slow, as in both cases, license renewals were granted between the time of the violations and the EEO audit. Under provisions of the Communications Act, the Commission cannot fine a station for action that occurred during a prior renewal term – so the grant of the renewals cut off the possibility of a fine in these cases.
These actions highlight the importance of complying with the Commission’s EEO rules, which we have summarized in our EEO Guide, here. In particular, in both cases, the station groups had not widely disseminated information about job openings, as required by the rules. Wide dissemination requires the use of recruitment sources designed to reach all groups within a community to allow their members to learn about the job openings at the station. The Commission’s aim is to bring into the broadcast workforce employees representing diverse groups within a community rather than hiring all their employees from traditional broadcast sources. In these cases, the stations had used only corporate websites, on-air announcements, and word of mouth recruiting. No outside sources, or sources reasonably likely to reach the entire community, were used by the broadcasters, hence the admonition and the reporting conditions.
So, is a broadcaster never justified in relying on its own airwaves as its sole recruitment tool? In most cases, as not everyone in a community is likely to listen to one owner’s broadcast stations, it cannot reasonably be assumed that the use of the airwaves would reach the entire community. While the FCC, in the Order adopting the EEO rules, did say that the use of a major newspaper read throughout the community might be sufficient as a source to reach all groups within the community, most broadcasters face competition, rarely being in a situation where they have the overall market reach of the monopoly daily newspaper (even though most broadcasters might argue that it is far more likely that ads on their stations will be heard and remembered than it is that a classified ad somewhere in a newspaper will be read by a potential employment candidate – especially one who may not be actively looking for work, but who might be intrigued by the possibility of a broadcast career and consider pursuing an open broadcast position). Nevertheless, under the current EEO regulations, broadcasters must design their EEO programs in such a way so as to be theoretically targeting all groups within a community.
In addition, it is important to note that one of these decisions involved Entravision, a broadcaster specializing in Spanish-language programming. It is probably reasonable to assume that the broadcaster had an ethnically diverse workplace, attracting Hispanic-American employees. However, the new EEO rules are designed not to measure the race or ethnicity of the broadcast station’s workplace, but instead to measure its efforts to reach out to the entire community and all groups within that community (not just racial and ethnic minorities) to bring new people from these diverse groups into the broadcast workforce. Thus, stations that may have racially or ethnically diverse workforces should not consider themselves exempt from the requirements of the rules.
As the Commission has committed to randomly audit 5% of all broadcast stations annually, and to also audit cable television systems which are subject to similar EEO rules, these cases are significant in demonstrating that the Commission’s EEO rules must be strictly observed, or serious consequences may ensue. So assess your EEO program now to assure that it is in compliance with the Commission’s rules.