In three cases released last week, the FCC made clear that its EEO rules, requiring wide dissemination of information about job opportunities at broadcast stations (and cable systems), are not satisfied by solely posting of information about openings on websites. Instead, the Commission required that additional outreach efforts be undertaken in order to assure that the notice of the job opening reaches all groups within a community. The decisions pointed to the FCC’s 2003 Report and Order adopting the current rules which stated that the FCC did not feel that the Internet was sufficiently ubiquitous that they could feel comfortable with on-line postings being sufficient to reach all groups within a community. In the recent decisions, the FCC staff said that they were not ready to change the determination of the 2003 Commission.
What does this mean on a practical level? The decisions hold that simply using internal station sources plus on-line postings (in one case website postings plus some combination of walk-ins, industry referrals, and internal postings; in another case the use of the station’s website, plus employee referrals) were insufficient to assure wide dissemination. To avoid getting caught in this trap, broadcasters must use some other traditional outreach services (e.g. employment agencies, community groups, educational institutions, and the local newspapers) to assure that they meet the Commission’s wide dissemination requirements.
On a more theoretical level, one wonders whether the Commission ought to reexamine this policy. In the 2003 Order, the FCC assumed that the principal daily newspaper in a community would reach all groups in that community. Query whether that makes sense 6 years later, especially when some communities (like Detroit) no longer even have a daily paper. In the 6 years since that decision, the FCC has never addressed the Petitions for Reconsideration that were filed requesting a reexamination of that determination. In these days where Craigslist and Monster.com have replaced the traditional newspaper classified ads as the place to go for job information in many cities, the FCC should look more closely at its policies.
The decisions also demonstrate that even large broadcasters are not immune from problems in meeting their EEO recruiting obligations. The fines were all imposed against clusters of local stations owned by large broadcast group owners. In one of the cases, the local cluster had not put its annual EEO public inspection file report on its website, as required by the rules (a failing which the FCC could, and did, check from its offices in Washington). In another, the group did not keep adequate records of the wide dissemination that it engaged in, and did not notify community groups that had asked to be notified about station job openings (a notification required by the rules).
Many of these issues were discovered by EEO audits, which the FCC continues to conduct (the last one occurring just months ago). Thus, stations need to be alert for these issues, and avoid the potential fines that they can bring – at least until the FCC revisits its policies on these issues.