In two decisions released this week, the FCC proposed to fine two broadcast groups $20,000 each for EEO violations.  In recent years, when the FCC releases fines for broadcast EEO violations, they seem to be trying to emphasize a point as to some aspect of the EEO rules by releasing multiple decisions at the same time all having the same theme.  In the cases released this week, the point that was common to both fines was that the broadcaster had not regularly sent information openings about job openings to community organizations that asked to be notified about such openings.  It was this failure, plus the failure of the stations to discover the problem through the self-assessment that is supposed to be regularly undertaken by a broadcaster of its EEO program, and the failure to report the problem to the FCC, that led to these fines, issued to two large broadcasters – Maryland Public Television (see the FCC opinion here) and AM/FM Broadcasting (see the FCC opinion here).

The FCC’s EEO program for broadcasters has three prongs. The first requires that the broadcaster adopt an outreach program to notify all significant groups within its community of job openings at the station.  The FCC is looking for an outreach program that reaches beyond the “old boy’s network,” to recruit new people from diverse segments of the community to work at broadcast stations.  In the past, many of the EEO fines that were issued focused on this first prong of the program – fining stations that either did not reach out to community groups about openings for most of its jobs (see, for instance, our article here), or where the outreach was insufficiently broad (see, for instance, our article here about fines issued to stations that had relied solely on in-house recruiting or online sources which, alone were deemed insufficient.  The cases this week went to prong 2 of the EEO program – the obligation to notify groups about job openings when those groups ask that they be notified.

Prong 2 of the EEO program requires that broadcasters let their communities know about their EEO outreach programs through occasional on-air announcements or other means.  As part of that notification, the broadcaster must let the public know that groups within its service area can ask that they be included on notifications of job openings.  Once they ask to be included on the list of groups to get notices of job openings, the groups need to be notified of the job openings at the station – for as long as they want to continue to receive these notices.  In these cases, the broadcasters had received requests that certain groups be notified about job openings, apparently told the FCC in prior filings that these groups had requested notification, then dropped the ball in the time period in which EEO audits of the station groups were conducted and failed to continue to provide that notice.  These decisions should serve as a warning to all broadcasters who have 5 or more full-time (at least 30 hours per week) employees at their station or station cluster, that they must provide notice of the existence of their EEO programs to their communities, and remember to notify the groups that actually request notification of the openings that arise at their stations.

Now that the FCC has fined broadcasters under both Prong 1 and Prong 2 of the EEO program, what is next?  Prong 3 requires that broadcasters conduct “non-vacancy specific outreach” – essentially supplemental efforts to educate their communities about the duties of various broadcast jobs and the qualifications that applicants should develop to qualify for those jobs.  In addition, these supplemental efforts educate the public about how people can find out about job openings when they arise.  These efforts are to be conducted even when an employment unit has no openings – just to educate the community about broadcast job opportunities.

These supplemental efforts include things like attending job fairs, conducting internship or scholarship programs, speaking at community groups or at educational institutions about broadcast related careers, and setting up in-house training programs on EEO issues.  As the FCC has not yet fined any broadcasters for not doing supplemental efforts properly, one wonders if that will be the next EEO message that broadcasters will receive from the FCC in their next set of fines at some point in the future. 

A few years ago, the FCC conducted a helpful seminar on these issues, a seminar at which I was a panelist.  You can find our article on that seminar and the issues that it raises, with links to the seminar itself, here