broadcaster EEO requirements

The FCC yesterday issued a Public Notice of the filing of a Petition for Rulemaking asking the FCC to declare that a broadcaster, by using its own airwaves and online sources to publicize job openings at its station, satisfies the requirement that a broadcaster widely disseminate information about job openings to members of all groups within its likely recruiting area. In 2002, when the FCC adopted its current EEO rules, it determined that online recruiting would not widely disseminate information about job openings in the way that a local newspaper would given the digital divide that the FCC thought existed at that time. But, the FCC said that it would later revisit that decision as circumstances change. The petition suggests that circumstances have indeed changed in the 14 years since the rules were adopted, that online recruiting is how people now find and apply for new jobs, and that it is time that the FCC recognize that fact and allow online recruiting to satisfy the obligation that a broadcaster give its community notice of job openings. Comments are due January 30, and replies on February 14.

The FCC has up to this point actively enforced its prohibition on station’s relying solely on its own airwaves and online sources for recruiting purposes, fining stations who meet their wide dissemination obligations solely by relying on such sources (see our articles about such cases here and here). But some at the FCC itself have recognized that this position no longer makes sense – including Commissioner O’Rielly who, in a blog post we wrote about here, suggested that broadcast recruiting in today’s world is appropriately done online, and that the FCC’s rules should reflect that fact. As set out in the Petition, Julius Genachowski, then-chairman of the FCC, recognized in a speech that: “In today’s world, you need broadband to find a job and apply for a job, because companies increasingly require online applications.” The petition notes that the FCC has recognized that the Internet is fine for public files and contest rules, so shouldn’t it also be found to be sufficient to get out the word about job openings?
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The FCC yesterday issued a Public Notice announcing the first set of EEO audits for 2015.  Letters to over 250 radio and TV stations went out asking for evidence of their compliance with the FCC’s EEO rules.  The Commission has pledged to audit 5% of all broadcast stations and cable systems each year to assure their compliance with the Commission’s EEO rules – requiring wide dissemination of information about job openings and non-vacancy specific supplemental efforts to educate their communities about job opportunities in the media industry. We recently summarized the FCC EEO issues here, reminding broadcasters of the possibility of being audited, and of the upcoming deadlines for the filing of FCC Form 397 EEO Mid-Term Reports, which will give the FCC another chance to review station EEO performance.  In yesterday’s notice, the FCC released the form audit letter and list of stations that will be audited. Responses from the audited stations are due to be filed at the FCC by March 24. Licensees should carefully review the list of affected stations contained in the Public Notice to see if any of their stations have been selected for the audit. 

The audit letter requires all stations with 5 or more full-time (30 or more hours per week) employees to provide a significant amount of information about their EEO programs and recruiting efforts (including copies of their 2 latest Annual EEO public file reports and documentation backing up the efforts listed on those reports).  Even stations with fewer than 5 full-time employees need to report the names and positions of their employees, and provide any information about law suits, EEOC complaints or similar employment actions brought as a result of equal employment or discrimination matters. 
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Another EEO audit was announced by the FCC today – hitting about 200 radio stations and about 75 TV stations this time around. The Commission has pledged to audit 5% of all broadcast stations and cable systems each year to assure their compliance with the Commission’s EEO rules – requiring wide dissemination of information about job openings and supplemental efforts

As we’ve written before, the FCC every year aims to randomly audit 5% of all broadcast stations and multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs) to assure their compliance with the Commission’s EEO rules.  Every few months, the FCC releases a list of the lucky regulatees who have to respond to the audit.  Today, the Commission issued

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. 


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