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

Fines of $14,000 and $8,000 were proposed by the FCC for violations of its EEO rules in two cases (here and here) released on the FCC’s last business day of the year.  In both cases, the fines were issued as these clusters of stations, on the FCC Form 396 EEO Reports filed with their license renewal applications, publicized a number of job openings without adequate recruitment.  In the cases faulted by the FCC, the stations’ recruitment relied solely on either internal station sources (e.g. word of mouth, referrals from existing employees, ads on the stations or on their own websites) or on on-line resources.  The Commission concluded that this was inadequate dissemination of the information about these openings.  Based on the failure to engage in broad outreach for all of their job openings, these fines were issued by the FCC – perhaps the first of more to come as the FCC reviews license renewal applications during the current license renewal cycle.  Perhaps coincidentally, the FCC will be conducting a webinar on its EEO rules on Wednesday, January 4, which is intended to help explain the obligations of broadcasters and other FCC regulated entities under these rules.

 The January 4 webinar will feature two panels.  The first will be a panel of FCC and private attorneys (I will be one of the participants) who will outline the legal obligations of broadcasters under the FCC’s EEO rules and policies and discuss how these rules are applied .  A second panel will feature industry representatives talking about EEO compliance best practices at their stations.  The webinar is free, but requires registration (here).  The FCC public notice of the webinar can be found here, and a further description of the seminar is available on its blog (here).  No doubt, the issues leading to the two fines announced on Friday will be discussed during the legal session.

Continue Reading FCC Fines Up to $14,000 Proposed for License Renewal EEO Violations, Commission To Hold Webinar to Explain Its Rules

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. 

Continue Reading On-line Recruitment Not Sufficient EEO Outreach for the FCC

The FCC has released another Public Notice that it is auditing the EEO performance of a number of the entities that it regulates.  However, this time, the audits are not of broadcasters, but instead of cable companies and other multichannel video programming distributors who are subject to essentially the same EEO rules as broadcasters.  The