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

In two recent actions, the FCC has evidenced its concern about the EEO performance of its licensees.  Last week, the Commission’s Enforcement Bureau entered into a Consent Decree with DIRECTV, by which DIRECTV paid the FCC $150,000 in lieu of a fine for the company’s failure to abide by the FCC’s EEO rules by not preparing an Annual EEO Public File Report or submitting a Form 396-C for several years.  The FCC also released a Public Notice announcing changes in the racial categories to be used in FCC Form 395 – the Form breaking down the employees of a broadcaster or cable company by race and gender.  That form has not been filed for years, as its use was prohibited when the FCC EEO rules were declared unconstitutional.  In adopting new EEO rules in 2003, the FCC promised to return the form to use, but has been wrestling with the issue of whether or not the form should be publicly available or whether it should simply used internally by the FCC to collect data about industry employment trends. The adoption of new definitions for the racial categories specified on the form may signal the return of this form.  Together, these actions demonstrate that the FCC has not lessened its concern about EEO in any fashion.

The DIRECTV fine was the result of the company’s failure to prepare Annual EEO Public File Reports or to submit 2003 and 2004 Form 396-C reports – reports that are more detailed versions of the Form 396 filed by broadcasters with their license renewals and the Form 397 Mid-Term Employment report.  The Form 396-C requires that multichannel video providers detail their hiring in the previous year and the outreach efforts made to fill job vacancies, the supplemental efforts that the employment unit has made to educate its community about job openings, and other details on the company’s employment practices.  After review of the company’s efforts, the Commission not only faulted the company for its paperwork failures, but also determined that the company had not engaged in sufficient outreach for all of its employment openings – relying solely on the Internet and on word-of-mouth recruiting for many job openings, which the Commission found to be insufficient.  Broadcasters need to make sure that they do not forget to file their required EEO forms, prepare their annual EEO Annual Public File Report, and engage in wide dissemination of information about all job openings.  Details of the FCC’s EEO rules, policies and requirements applicable to broadcasters can be found in Davis Wright Tremaine’s EEO Advisory.


Continue Reading Big EEO Fines on DIRECTV, and The Return of FCC Form 395B

June 1st marks the deadline for two FCC EEO requirements.  First, by June 1st, radio and television stations located in Arizona, the District of Columbia, Idaho, Maryland, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming, must prepare their Annual EEO Public File Reports.  Specifically, stations or Station Employment

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

As we wrote last week, the FCC recently admonished two major broadcasters, each of which had a station group which had not complied with the FCC’s EEO rules.  In both cases, the FCC would have issued fines instead of the admonishments had it not been for renewal applications that were granted between the time of the

In two decisions released this week by the FCC, here and here, two large broadcast group owners were admonished for failures to comply with the FCC’s EEO rules. In both cases, failures to widely disseminate information about job openings in one market were discovered by the FCC in the course of random EEO audits that selected these stations for review. In both cases, the Commission determined that the violations were serious, and imposed reporting conditions (essentially subjecting the stations to an FCC audit of their EEO annual public file reports every year for the next 3 years). And in each case, the FCC would have fined the stations for their violations, but the Commission moved too slow, as in both cases, license renewals were granted between the time of the violations and the EEO audit.  Under provisions of the Communications Act, the Commission cannot fine a station for action that occurred during a prior renewal term – so the grant of the renewals cut off the possibility of a fine in these cases.

These actions highlight the importance of complying with the Commission’s EEO rules, which we have summarized in our EEO Guide, here. In particular, in both cases, the station groups had not widely disseminated information about job openings, as required by the rules. Wide dissemination requires the use of recruitment sources designed to reach all groups within a community to allow their members to learn about the job openings at the station. The Commission’s aim is to bring into the broadcast workforce employees representing diverse groups within a community rather than hiring all their employees from traditional broadcast sources.  In these cases, the stations had used only corporate websites, on-air announcements, and word of mouth recruiting. No outside sources, or sources reasonably likely to reach the entire community, were used by the broadcasters, hence the admonition and the reporting conditions. 


Continue Reading What a Difference A Renewal Makes – FCC Admonishes Two Broadcasters for EEO Violations, Fines Would Have Followed if Renewals Had Not Recently Been Granted

Here we are, almost a full month into the new year, and a number of important dates for broadcasters are already upon us.  As we wrote here, for instance, the payment of a minimum fee to SoundExchange by radio stations streaming their signals on the Internet is due today.  Lowest unit rates are in

At last Thursday’s Public Hearing on multiple ownership in Chicago, about which we wrote here, a statement was read by a spokesman for Presidential candidate Barack Obama.  According to press reports, the statement expressed the candidate’s positions favoring shorter license renewal terms for broadcasters so that they would be subject to more public scrutiny, as well as criticizing the FCC for allowing broadcast consolidation.  These thoughts essentially echo the comments of FCC Commissioner Copps, especially on the subject of license renewal terms, whose views we wrote about here.  While many press reports have asked if this statement by Senator Obama foreshadows the broadcast ownership debate becoming part of the presidential campaign issues, we worry that it may signal a far broader attack on broadcasters during the upcoming political year.  The statement by Senator Obama is but one of a host of indications that broadcasters may face a rash of legislative issues that are now on the political drawing boards.

Broadcasters make easy targets for politicians as everyone is an expert on radio and television – after all, virtually everyone watches TV or listens to the radio and thus fancies themselves knowledgeable of what is good and bad for the public.  But those in Congress (and on the FCC) have the ability to do something about it.  And, with an election year upon us, they have the added incentive to act, given that any action is bound to generate at least some publicity and, for some, this may be their last opportunity to enact legislation that they feel important.  We’ve already written about the renewed emphasis, just last week, on passing legislation to overturn the Second Circuit’s decision throwing out the FCC’s fines on "fleeting expletives" and making the unanticipated use of one of those "dirty words" subject again to FCC indecency fines.  Clearly, no Congressman wants to be seen as being in favor of indecency (look at the rise in the indecency fines to $325,000 per occurrence which was voted through Congress just before the last election), and First Amendment issues are much more nuanced and difficult to explain to the voter, so watch this legislation.


Continue Reading One Sign That Broadcasters Are About to Become Political Footballs – Obama Suggests Shorter Broadcast License Terms and Less Consolidation

The FCC today announced another round of EEO audits of broadcast stations throughout the country.  The FCC’s Public Notice of the audits, and the list of the stations that are affected, can be found here.  Broadcasters should review this list carefully, both by call letter and licensee name, as we have noted situations where the

As we reminded broadcasters earlier this month, the first filings of FCC Form 397, the Broadcast Mid-Term EEO Report, will be due to be filed at the FCC on June 1.  This report is filed 4 years after the due date for filing of a station’s license renewal application, and is to be filed by all radio station employment units with more than 10 full time employees, and all TV station employment units with five or more employees.  The first reports are due on June 1 by radio groups in Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia.  Every two months thereafter, stations in a different group of states will need to file their Mid-Term reports.  Last week, the FCC released a Public Notice clarifying some aspects of the filing process.

The Public Notice addressed two principal issues – (1) what happens when radio station clusters and their associated station employment units include stations in different states with different filing deadlines, and (2) what happens when employment units include both radio and television stations in the same state.  For radio employment units with stations in different states, the FCC reminds broadcasters that they should have made an election about which state’s filing deadline to use back in 2003 when the current EEO rules were adopted, and they should have been using that election for each of their public file reports since then.  That same election would control the filing deadline for the Mid-Term report. 


Continue Reading FCC Issues Clarification of Mid-Term EEO Report Obligations of Broadcasters