With the kick-off of the FCC’s broadcast license renewal cycle comes some additional obligations for licensees, this time in the form of an FCC Form 396 Broadcast EEO Report.  The Form 396 is filed only at renewal time and serves to: 1.) confirm the licensee’s commitment to EEO, 2.) provide a narrative statement about how the station

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 today released a Public Notice announcing the next group of broadcast stations subject to a random audit of their compliance with the FCC’s EEO rules. The Notice lists radio and television stations across the country that nust respond to a Commission inquiry and provide information and documentation about their EEO efforts. Annually, the FCC

February 1st marks the deadline for two FCC EEO requirements.  First, by February 1st, radio and television stations located in Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York and Oklahoma must prepare their Annual EEO Public File Reports. Specifically, stations or Station Employment Units (SEUs) in those states with five or more full time

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 today released another Public Notice announcing the random audit of the EEO performance of a number of broadcast stations – listing both radio and television stations that have to respond, with stations spread throughout the country.  The FCC has promised to annually audit 5% of all broadcast licensees to assess their compliance with the FCC’s EEO rules.  These rules require the wide dissemination of information about job openings at their stations and "supplemental efforts" to educate their communities about employment opportunities at broadcast stations, even in the absence of employment openings.  The FCC’s audit letter requires the submission of two years worth of the Annual Public File reports that stations prepare each year on the anniversary date of the filing of their license renewal applications.  These reports are placed in the station’s public file and posted on their websites (if they have websites).  The FCC’s public notice about this audit emphasizes the requirement for posting the Annual Report on a station’s website, perhaps confirming rumors that we have heard about the FCC’s staffers browsing station websites to look for these reports.

Stations are given until May 4 to complete the audit responses and submit them to the Commission.  Note that information needs to be supplied not just for the station named on the list, but also for all other stations in the same "station employment unit," i.e. a group of stations under common control, that serve the same general geographic area, and which have at least one common employee.  As recent audits have led to significant FCC fines (see our story here about fines issues just before the holidays), broadcasters who are listed on this audit list should take care in preparing their responses.  The audit notice should also remind other licensees who are lucky enough to avoid having been selected for inclusion on this audit list to review their EEO programs for FCC compliance purposes, as they could very well find themselves not so fortunate when the next FCC audit is announced.


Continue Reading FCC Launches New Round of EEO Audits – Highlights the Requirment for Posting Annual Report on Station’s Website

Just after Christmas, the FCC gave a number of broadcasters the equivalent of coal in their stocking – fining six different licensees for violations of the FCC’s EEO rules.  The fines issued that day ranged between $7,000 and $20,000, and included penalties issued to major broadcasting companies including Fox and Cumulus.  Also included were fines against Urban Radio in New York City and Puerto Rico Public Broadcasting – demonstrating that the FCC’s EEO rules, adopted in late 2002 after previous rules were declared unconstitutional essentially on "reverse discrimination" grounds (as they encouraged broadcasters to make hiring decisions not based on qualifications but instead based on race or gender), are truly race and gender blind.  It would be logical to assume that Urban Radio and Puerto Rico Public Broadcasting both had significant numbers of minority-group members on their staffs but, as they could not demonstrate that they had complied with the new rules requirements to reach out to all groups in their communities (as opposed to just racial or gender focused groups), they were assessed fines.  Reporting conditions, requiring that the broadcasters regularly file reports with the FCC so that their EEO efforts can be monitored, were also imposed.  All of the decisions can be found on the FCC’s Daily Digest for that day, here.

The basis of all of these fines was the failure of the licensees to be able to demonstrate that they had "widely disseminated" information about all of their job openings.  The core of the 2002 EEO regulations was the requirement that licensees broadly disseminate notice about their job openings in such a way so as reach all of the significant groups within the community that the station serves.  The Commission was not looking to specifically force minority hiring, but instead to push for hiring from diverse sources.  The Commission wanted to push broadcasters to use recruitment sources beyond the existing broadcast community – so that hiring was not simply done by word of mouth or from within other professional broadcast circles.   Thus, the rules require that broadcasters use recruitment sources that reach out to various groups within their community and document those efforts. 


Continue Reading FCC Fines Multiple Broadcast Stations for EEO Violations – Fines Up to $20,000 Imposed

2009 – a new year, and a whole new cycle of regulatory requirements.  We wrote last week about the potential for changes in regulations that may be forthcoming but, like death and taxes, there are certain regulatory dates each year that broadcasters need to note and certain deadlines that must be met.  Those dates

Come the New Year, we all engage in speculation about what’s ahead in our chosen fields, so it’s time for us to look into our crystal ball to try to discern what Washington may have in store for broadcasters in 2009. With each new year, a new set of regulatory issues face the broadcaster from the powers-that-be in Washington. But this year, with a new Presidential administration, new chairs of the Congressional committees that regulate broadcasters, and with a new FCC on the way, the potential regulatory challenges may cause the broadcaster to look at the new year with more trepidation than usual. In a year when the digital television transition finally becomes a reality, and with a troubled economy and no election or Olympic dollars to ease the downturn, who wants to deal with new regulatory obstacles? Yet, there are potential changes that could affect virtually all phases of the broadcast operations for both radio and television stations – technical, programming, sales, and even the use of music – all of which may have a direct impact on a station’s bottom line that can’t be ignored. 

With the digital conversion, one would think that television broadcasters have all the technical issues that they need for 2009. But the FCC’s recent adoption of its “White Spaces” order, authorizing the operation of unlicensed wireless devices on the TV channels, insures that there will be other issues to watch. The White Spaces decision will likely be appealed. While the appeal is going on, the FCC will have to work on the details of the order’s implementation, including approving operators of the database that is supposed to list all the stations that the new wireless devices will have to protect, as well as “type accepting” the devices themselves, essentially certifying that the devices can do what their backers claim – knowing where they are through the use of geolocation technology, “sniffing” out signals to protect, and communicating with the database to avoid interference with local television, land mobile radio, and wireless microphone signals.


Continue Reading Gazing Into the Crystal Ball – The Outlook for Broadcast Regulation in 2009

Recently, it seems like you can’t read a broadcast industry newsletter without seeing an article about employment reductions or layoffs at some station – sometimes the whole newsletter seems to be dominated by such reports.  In this climate, broadcasters need to consider the employment law issues that can arise in such situations.  The Davis Wright