Each week, we summarize some of the regulatory and legal actions of the last week significant to broadcasters – both those from the FCC and those taken elsewhere –with links to where you can go to find more information as to how these actions may affect your operations.  Here is this week’s list of significant

Earlier this month, the FCC announced another of its regular EEO audits, though this time it’s just for cable systems and other MVPDs who, like broadcasters, have EEO obligations. The FCC will audit 5% of all broadcasters and cable companies each year to assess their EEO compliance, so be prepared in case you are

An FCC decision fining a cable company $11,000 for not adequately recruiting for job openings should be viewed as a warning to broadcasters as well as well as MVPDs – failure to recruit for job openings by disseminating information about those opening through diverse sources will likely result in a substantial fine under the current rules being enforced by the Commission’s Media Bureau. As the Commission has held before (see our article here), simply recruiting through online sources will not be enough to avoid the imposition of a fine. In this case, the FCC specifically points out that approximately 30% of the cable system’s service area did not have Internet access, so people in that group were likely not exposed to information about the station’s job openings. As the Commission requires that job openings be publicized so as to reach all groups within a system’s (or a broadcast station’s) recruitment area (which is related to its core service area), the decision found that the failure to recruit so as to reach this significant portion of the local population, together with the failure to complete one year’s EEO public inspection file report, merited a fine of $11,000.

One of the interesting aspects of this decision is the emphasis that the Media Bureau continues to put on the distinction between online recruiting and other more traditional means of reaching out to potential job applicants (e.g. using employment agencies, sending notices to community groups, using college job offices, etc.). Even though Commissioner O’Rielly has suggested that the Commission allow recruiting to be done solely using online sources (see our article here), as that is much more in tune with the way that job seekers today look for potential employment opportunities, the Commission continues to insist on station’s using these more traditional outreach efforts regardless of their success rate. In fact, the FCC has never revisited its 2003 EEO order that presumes that the local newspaper is a source that can reach most groups within a community, when it no doubt can be proven that, in today’s world, the circulation of online job sites is significantly greater than that of almost any newspaper. Commissioner O’Rielly notes that the FCC itself has recognized the reach of the Internet through actions such as the requirements that broadcast and MVPD public files be moved online, and that disclosures about contest rules can be made online. Yet, in the EEO world, online recruitment, unless tied with the use of other more traditional outside sources, will bring a fine. Certainly, it is an issue that the FCC needs to revisit – and one that perhaps will be revisited in appeals of decisions like this one, or in response to the calls of Commissioner O’Rielly and others.
Continue Reading $11,000 FCC EEO Fine for Recruiting Solely Through Online Sources – Time to Revisit the FCC Rules?

As summer approaches, many stations are preparing for the arrival of summer interns.  While internship programs can earn stations EEO “credit” towards meeting the requirement that they conduct non-vacancy specific outreach efforts (the so-called “menu options” or “supplemental efforts” offered by the FCC to encourage stations to reach out to their communities to educate community residents as to what jobs are available at broadcast stations, and how people can train for and find out about such openings (see the article here for a link to a presentation that I did on all of the FCC’s EEO requirements), stations need to be cautious in setting up their internship programs for other reasons. In recent years, there have been a large number of lawsuits in over whether interns need to be paid for their work. While these lawsuits have spanned many industries, several involved broadcasters and other media companies.  Thus, we felt the need for this cautionary note.

These disputes arise over wage and hour issues.  In the most general terms, lawyers for former interns who were not paid have argued that the interns should have been paid as they functioned as employees of the station.  In analyzing these issues, courts look at a number of issues, principally to determine if the internship was one that was meant more to benefit the intern and their education, or whether it was of a greater benefit it the station.  Where the interns do the work that a paid employee would normally do, then there is an argument that the intern should themselves have been paid. What issues do the courts review?
Continue Reading Summer Internships – Good for FCC EEO Credit, But Be Careful of Wage and Hour Law Implications

Last week, I conducted a webinar on the FCC’s EEO rules for 19 state broadcast associations, explaining the issues that broadcasters need to keep in mind to comply with those rules.  The slides from my presentation are available here.  On the same day, the FCC issued a Public Notice announcing another of their random EEO audits – this one limited to MVPD, principally cable systems, not broadcasters.  But, as the FCC has promised to audit 5% of all broadcast stations every year, the MVPD audit notice only serves as a reminder to broadcasters to keep up their FCC outreach efforts and recordkeeping requirements to make sure that, if they are audited, they will pass with flying colors.

During my presentation, I had a series of questions about defining an employment unit for EEO purposes.  A station employment unit is a group of commonly controlled stations serving a common geographic area having at least one employee in common.  The number of employees in an employment unit is important for determining if a station has, for instance, 5 full-time (30 hours per week) employees making it subject to the FCC outreach efforts requirements (and, for TV stations, the requirement to file a Mid-Term EEO report).  For radio groups, having 11 or more full-time employees in an employment unit makes them subject to the requirement to file with the FCC an EEO Mid-Term report.  If the unit spans different states with different EEO public inspection file dates, the licensee should pick one of the dates and consistently apply it in the future (filing the consistently prepared reports on the deadlines for FCC filings for each station in the group).  For stations newly acquired by an owners in its market, the buyer is responsible for the including the new station in the employment unit and reporting on the employment activities of the station from the date that the station is acquired.
Continue Reading A Presentation to Explain the FCC’s EEO Rules, and Another EEO Audit

EEO Mid-Term Reports on FCC Form 397 must be filed at the mid-point of the renewal cycle of radio stations if they are part of a station employment unit with more than 10 full-time employees, or 5 or more full-time employees for TV. A station employment unit is one or more commonly-controlled stations serving substantially the same area, and sharing at least one employee. As it has been 4 years since the first radio renewal applications were filed in the last license renewal cycle, June 1 brings the deadline for radio groups in Maryland, DC, Virginia and West Virginia that have more than 11 or more full-time (30 hours per week) employees to file their Form 397 Reports. The FCC yesterday issued a reminder to stations about this obligation.

The reminder does not address in any detail the content of the form. Essentially, the Form 397 (which can be viewed here) is like the Form 396 filed by stations in connection with their license renewal applications. After providing identifying information, the form requires that station licensees identify a person who is responsible for EEO compliance at the station, and to attach their last two EEO Public Inspection File Reports – the most recent of which will, for stations in these states, need to be placed in the public inspection file by June 1. These Public Inspection File reports can be reviewed by the FCC to assess the hiring efforts made by the broadcaster for job openings in the last two years to insure that the station’s outreach efforts to prospective new employees were sufficiently broad to attract applicants from all significant groups within the station’s service area. We wrote about the basics of the FCC’s EEO policies for broadcasters here.
Continue Reading FCC Issues Reminder on Form 397 EEO Mid-Term Reports – Filing Obligations Begin on June 1 for Radio Stations in DC, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia

In a post on the FCC’s blog, Commissioner Michael O’Rielly proposed allowing broadcasters to meet their EEO wide dissemination obligations solely through Internet sources. As we recently wrote, broadcasters need to widely disseminate information about job openings at their stations, using sources that are designed to reach all of the major groups that may exist within a station’s recruitment area. These sources could include school groups, minority organizations, social or community organizations, or other population groups that may exist in a station’s community. The current EEO rules, adopted a dozen years ago, suggested that a significant newspaper of general circulation may be one way to reach most of the groups within a community. But, as the Internet was not seen as universally available at that point, the FCC ruled that online sources alone would not be sufficient to meet these wide dissemination requirements. The FCC has continued to enforce that decision, even penalizing stations that relied solely on online sources for wide dissemination purposes (see, for instance, our summary of one such decision fining a number of stations that relied primarily on online sources, here). Commissioner O’Rielly suggests that this does not make sense in today’s world, as the Internet is much more available than the newspaper and other more “traditional” recruitment sources.

The Commissioner cites many statistics about the current availability of the Internet to diverse populations, and points to the fact that virtually all public libraries now have public Internet access, and one of the principal reasons for such Internet access if often to provide employment opportunities. He points to all of the online job sites that now exist, and the relative paucity of job listings in today’s newspaper. Will his proposal go anywhere?
Continue Reading Commissioner O’Rielly Proposes to Bring Mandatory FCC EEO Recruiting Into the Modern Era by Allowing Reliance on Internet Resources

With the Martin Luther King Day holiday just passed, it seems appropriate to review the FCC’s EEO rules, which look to promote broad access to broadcast employment opportunities.  The FCC’s EEO rules no longer seek exclusively to promote minority employment, but instead seek to have stations reach out to all groups within the area they serve to try to attract people from diverse sources into broadcasting – rather than allowing stations to simply recruit through word-of-mouth and traditional broadcast sources (e.g. referrals from consultants and friends).  We have written about the FCC audit process by which it will review the EEO performance of approximately 5% of all broadcast stations each year (see, e.g. our articles here and here) and also about recent fines for stations that did not comply with the FCC requirements in specific areas.  With EEO review also expanding this year through the filing of FCC Form 397 Mid-Term Reports by radio station clusters with 11 or more full-time employees located in certain states (see the list of states on our Broadcasters’ Regulatory Calendar), it might be good to review the basics of the FCC’s EEO requirements.

The FCC requirements, beyond forbidding any station from engaging in overt discrimination, also requires broad outreach to a station’s community to recruit for open employment positions at any station, as well as efforts to educate the community about the duties of and qualifications for  positions at broadcast stations, whether or not a station has any job openings.  These requirements apply to any station employment unit (a group of commonly-owned stations serving the same general geographic area and having one or more common employees) with 5 or more full-time (30 hours per week or more) employees.  What do the outreach rules require of stations?
Continue Reading Reminder: A Broadcaster’s FCC EEO Obligations

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.
Continue Reading Two $20,000 FCC Fines for EEO Violations Demonstrate the Importance of Notifications of Job Openings to Community Groups

Last week, I participated in an FCC-sponsored webinar to discuss its EEO rules.  Along with two other private firm lawyers, the chief of the FCC’s Office that administers its EEO rules and one of his senior staff members participated on a panel to discuss the legal obligations of broadcasters and MVPDs in meeting the EEO rules.  The panel, which lasted almost two hours, was a very thorough discussion of the requirements of the FCC rules.  It provided insight into how the FCC identifies problems, and even suggested some ideas as to how broadcasters can assure compliance with the requirements in the easiest way possible.  While lengthy, the webinar, which is archived on the FCC’s website, is worth viewing to get a very good summary of the FCC rules.  If a station or MVPD has its management employees and others with hiring responsibility sit down and watch the video, and use it as part of a training program for management employees on EEO matters, it may even count as one of the non-job specific supplemental outreach initiatives that the FCC requires each entity subject to the EEO rules to conduct.

We wrote last week about a recent set of FCC fines to two broadcasters that had not widely disseminated information about all of their job openings – relying instead on only a combination of internal sources (word-of-mouth, station websites, intra-company referrals) and Internet websites for their outreach efforts for a substantial number of job openings.  At the webinar, the FCC officials said that there were a number of other enforcement actions in the pipeline that should be public soon.  The FCC is reviewing every license renewal application that is filed with the FCC to determine if its accompanying Form 396 provides information necessary to demonstrate compliance with the three prongs of the FCC’s EEO program – wide dissemination for all job openings, notice of job openings to community groups that request such notice, and non-vacancy specific initiatives that are designed to educate a community about the nature and requirements of broadcast jobs.  Stations are also reviewed when the FCC conducts random audits (5% of all stations and MVPDs are supposed to be audited annually) and when complaints or other information comes to the attention of the FCC staff.  Staff members remarked that they have even called stations to discuss issues when visiting a station website for personal reasons and noting the absence of the most recent Annual EEO Public File Report that needs to be posted on a station website on the anniversary date of the filing of the license renewal applications for stations in the state of the station’s city of license. 


Continue Reading More EEO Fines on Their Way – And Helpful Hints on EEO Compliance From the FCC’s EEO Webinar