The FCC has issued Notices of Apparent Liability against two radio licensees for apparent EEO violations at their respective station clusters. These NALs, issued on the next to last day of the FCC’s business year, are the first to address EEO violations in a year and a half. The common thread in both NALs was the licensee’s failure to properly recruit for new hires, relying primarily on "walk-ins" or referrals in lieu of the "wide dissemination" required for information about job openings.  In one case, where the licensee failed to widely disseminate information about 28 job openings, the FCC proposed a fine of $20,000.  In the other case, where the station owner was able to document recruitment efforts for some of its openings, the FCC proposed a fine of $8000 for the six jobs where the required recruitment efforts were found lacking. 

In the first NAL, the $20,000 proposed forfeiture was based on a finding that the licensee failed to properly recruit for 28 of the 29 full-time vacancies filled over a six year period.  Instead, the licensee relied on "walk-ins" and referrals for six vacancies, and used the Internet or on-air ads for 22 vacancies.  These methods alone do not constitute sufficient dissemination of job vacancies under FCC rules.  In a post last year, we explained that the FCC does not consider Internet advertising alone to be sufficient for recruitment purposes, and questioned whether that policy is appropriate in this day and age.


Continue Reading FCC Imposes Fines Up to $20,000 for EEO Violations

The nuts and bolts of legal issues for broadcasters were highlighted in two sessions in which I participated at last week’s joint convention of the Oregon and Washington State Broadcasters Associations, held in Stephenson, Washington, on the Columbia River that divides the two states.  Initially, I conducted a seminar for broadcasters providing a refresher on their

The FCC yesterday issued another in its series of EEO random audit notices, asking that approximately 170 radio stations nationwide provide information about their hiring practices.  Information requested includes the last two years worth of broadcast EEO Public File reports, plus more complete documentation of the efforts outlined in the Public File reports and demonstrating that the information provided in the annual report was really conducted and accurately reported.  In addition, the FCC asks that a station provide an explanation if their most recent EEO public fie report cannot be found on the Station’s website.  The FCC’s Public Notice about this audit, which lists the stations that must respond, can be found here.  That Public Notice also reminds broadcasters of the obligation to post the EEO public file report on the station’s website, perhaps indicating that the FCC has been investigating and has found instances where this is not being done.  Responses to the audit must be filed by September 21.  A form of the EEO audit letter is available here

On the same day as the FCC issued this audit for radio stations, it issued a Public Notice to remind Multi-Channel Video Programming Distributors (MVPDs) with six or more full-time employees, including cable systems, of their obligation to file by September 30 their Annual EEO Program Reports on FCC Form 396-C .  This form is to be filed through the FCC’s electronic filing system.  This notice also reminds certain cable systems of the need to submit supplemental information about their hiring efforts to the FCC. 


Continue Reading FCC Announces New Round of EEO Audits for Radio Stations; Reminds Broadcsters of Requirement to Post Annual EEO Public File Report on Station Website, and Cable Companies of Obligation to File EEO Program Annual Report

In recent months, the broadcast industry has experienced one of the most active periods of regulatory activity in recent memory. Since November, the FCC has adopted enhanced disclosure obligations concerning the public interest programming of television broadcasters and requirements for an on-line public inspection file; rejected most calls for increased deregulation of broadcast ownership (allowing only the cross-ownership of broadcast stations and newspapers in the largest markets); established specific prohibitions against advertising practices that involved “no Spanish, no urban dictates”; placed mandatory disclosure obligations on television broadcasters in connection with promotion of the DTV transition; proposed rules that could favor low power FM stations over improvements in full-power broadcast services and existing FM translator licensees; and proposed sweeping regulation of broadcasters which could potentially require specific amounts of nonentertainment programming by all stations, restrict the flexibility of broadcasters’ location of their main studios, require 24-7 live staffing for all stations that operate on that basis, and perhaps even evaluate the music selection process of radio operators. Rumored to be in the offing are proposals to regulate embedded advertising, to adopt enhanced rules on sponsorship identification in connection with video news releases and payola-like practices, and perhaps even expand EEO reporting requirements (as the FCC recently asked for public comment on the employee-classification information for its long-suspended requirements for the filing of FCC Form 395 – the Annual Employment Report in which stations categorize all their employees by their employment duties, race and gender). And Congress has not been idle, with proposals introduced for the adoption of a performance royalty on over-the-air radio for the use of sound recordings, hearings about potential restrictions on prescription drug advertising, and a proposal to roll back the limited ownership reform adopted by the Commission in December.

With all this activity in a six month period under a Republican administration with a Republican majority on the FCC, during a time of great turmoil in the broadcast industry itself, as television prepares for the digital transition and broadcast revenue growth is slow or nonexistent (based on a variety of factors including general economic conditions and competition from the plethora of new media choices), many broadcasters are wondering what’s going on? And some fear even more changes could come about in any new administration that may come to Washington after the November elections, no matter what the result of that election. The one candidate with the most experience in the regulation of broadcasting, Senator McCain who has chaired the Senate Commerce Committee which regulates the broadcast industry, has by no means been a captive of the broadcast industry – leading efforts to enhance the use of LPFM and at one point pushing a spectrum tax proposal for television broadcasters for the use of the digital spectrum.


Continue Reading Broadcasters and the Regulatory Pendulum – Swinging Toward More Regulation