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.
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Another month is upon us, with the typical list of FCC dates of importance – and some new issues (including incentive auction developments that will probably be a regular part of our news through a good part of next year). One date of importance to some TV broadcasters was yesterday – July 1 – when TV stations affiliated with one of the Big Four TV networks and located in the Top 60 TV markets need to be carrying at least 50 hours of prime time or children’s programming each quarter containing video description. While most of this programming will come from the networks themselves, affiliates in these markets should be now be passing through enough of this video-described programming to meet the quarterly minimums.

July 10 brings other routine filing deadlines. For all broadcasters, by July 10 you should have in your public file (the online public file for TV stations) your Quarterly Issues Programs lists describing the most important issues that faced your community in the prior quarter and the programming that you broadcast to address those issues. Also due to be filed at the FCC by July 10 is your station’s Children’s Television Programming Report on Form 398 describing the programming broadcast on your station to serve the educational and informational needs of children. In addition, TV stations need to place in their online public file information showing compliance with the commercial limits in children’s programming and, for Class A stations, documentation showing continued eligibility for Class A status. For other dates of importance to broadcasters, see our Broadcaster Regulatory Calendar, here.
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The FCC yesterday issued a Public Notice announcing its second EEO audit for 2015.  Letters to just over 100 radio (no TV stations were included in the current audit) went out on June 12 asking for evidence of their compliance with the FCC’s EEO rules.  Many of the stations included on this list appear to be noncommercial broadcasters. In yesterday’s notice, the FCC released the form audit letter and list of stations that will be audited. Responses from the audited stations are due to be filed at the FCC by July 27. Licensees should carefully review the list of affected stations contained in the Public Notice to see if any of their stations have been selected for the audit. Note that there are some blank pages included in the PDF version available at this link, so be sure to scroll through these blank pages to view the entire list of audited stations.

The Commission has pledged to audit 5% of all broadcast stations and cable systems each year to assure their compliance with the Commission’s EEO rules – including the requirements for wide dissemination of information about job openings and non-vacancy specific supplemental efforts to educate a station’s community about job opportunities in the media industry. We recently summarized the FCC EEO issues here, reminding broadcasters of the possibility of being audited. We also recently wrote about the start of the obligations for the filing of FCC Form 397 EEO Mid-Term Reports – which started this month for radio groups with more than 11 full-time employees and will extend to TV licensees with 5 or more full-time employees next year, and are filed on the 4th anniversary of the filing deadline for the station’s license renewal – which will give the FCC another chance to review station EEO performance.  
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March is one of those rare months on the broadcast calendar when there are few routine regulatory deadlines for broadcasters. As we are winding down in the television license renewal cycle, the month’s only license renewal obligations for TV broadcasters are the pre-filing license renewal announcements on the 1st and 16th of the month for stations in Delaware and Pennsylvania, whose renewals are due on April 1, and the post-filing announcements for TV stations in New York and New Jersey. But there are still dates of interest to broadcasters in the month ahead. Here are some of those dates.

March also brings the obligation, by March 16 for TV stations to be in compliance with the Closed Captioning Quality Standards, which require that broadcasts assess and work to perfect the quality of the closed captioning carried on their stations. While the FCC is looking at bringing television program suppliers under these rules, as of now, the obligation for compliance with the rules is on the television broadcaster. We wrote about the captioning quality rules and the FCC’s recent proceeding to shift some of the burden to program suppliers here.
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The FCC yesterday issued a Public Notice announcing the first set of EEO audits for 2015.  Letters to over 250 radio and TV stations went out asking for evidence of their compliance with the FCC’s EEO rules.  The Commission has pledged to audit 5% of all broadcast stations and cable systems each year to assure their compliance with the Commission’s EEO rules – requiring wide dissemination of information about job openings and non-vacancy specific supplemental efforts to educate their communities about job opportunities in the media industry. We recently summarized the FCC EEO issues here, reminding broadcasters of the possibility of being audited, and of the upcoming deadlines for the filing of FCC Form 397 EEO Mid-Term Reports, which will give the FCC another chance to review station EEO performance.  In yesterday’s notice, the FCC released the form audit letter and list of stations that will be audited. Responses from the audited stations are due to be filed at the FCC by March 24. Licensees should carefully review the list of affected stations contained in the Public Notice to see if any of their stations have been selected for the audit. 

The audit letter requires all stations with 5 or more full-time (30 or more hours per week) employees to provide a significant amount of information about their EEO programs and recruiting efforts (including copies of their 2 latest Annual EEO public file reports and documentation backing up the efforts listed on those reports).  Even stations with fewer than 5 full-time employees need to report the names and positions of their employees, and provide any information about law suits, EEOC complaints or similar employment actions brought as a result of equal employment or discrimination matters. 
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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?
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Two fines for EEO violations released Friday were among the rush of actions coming from the FCC last week as it tries to finish its work of 2014.  Incentive auction procedures, MVPD redefinition, online public file issues, approvals of long-pending TV company mergers and so many other actions were taken in the last week that we can’t keep up.  Now, we can add EEO violations to the list of year-end actions, as the FCC’s Media Bureau on Friday released two Notices of Apparent Liability to radio stations operators for violating the EEO rules, proposing fines of $5000 and $9000.  While, in both cases, the stations are principally faulted for their failure to engage in wide dissemination of job openings, one case cites a new issue as the issue partially underlying the EEO fine – the failure to actually provide notice of job openings to all of the recruitment sources that had requested that the station notify them when there are job vacancies. Both cases arose from station license renewal applications filed about more than 3 years ago.

Each EEO employment unit (stations under common control, serving the same geographic area and sharing a common employee) with 5 or more full-time employees must engage in the three prongs of the FCC’s EEO outreach requirements.  First, they must engage in wide dissemination of information about job openings, using a variety of recruitment sources to ensure that information about job openings at a station reach all of the diverse groups of people that may be represented within the station’s recruitment area.  Secondly, they must let groups within the community know that they can ask to be notified of job openings at the station when such openings arise (and in fact provide such notice when the openings do arise).  Finally, they must engage “non-vacancy specific outreach efforts” – activities to educate the community about broadcast employment – what people do in broadcast jobs, how they can find out about the jobs, and what sort of training or experience is necessary for jobs in the industry.  It was violations of these first two prongs of the FCC’s EEO program that got the stations in trouble in these two recent orders.
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The FCC has just announced another of its regular EEO audits, though this time it’s just for cable and satellite television systems, which also have EEO obligations (see the FCC Public Notice and list of affected systems here). The FCC will audit 5% of all broadcasters and cable companies each year to assess

The FCC yesterday issued a Public Notice announcing a new round of EEO audits.  Letters to about 180 radio stations went out asking for evidence of their compliance with the FCC’s EEO rules.  The Commission has pledged to audit 5% of all broadcast stations and cable systems each year to assure their compliance with the Commission’s EEO rules – requiring wide dissemination of information about job openings and non-vacancy specific supplemental efforts to educate their communities about job opportunities in the media industry. The form audit letter was also released by the FCC and attached to the Public Notice. Responses from the audited stations are due to be filed at the FCC by July 25. Licensees should carefully review the list of affected stations contained in the Public Notice to see if any of their stations are on the list. 

The audit letter requires all stations with 5 or more full-time (30 or more hours per week) employees to provide information about their EEO programs.  Even stations with fewer than 5 full-time employees need to report the names and positions of their employees, and provide any information about law suits, EEOC complaints or similar employment actions brought as a result of  equal employment or discrimination matters.  The requirements for stations with 5 or more employees are more significant.
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March is one of those few months on the FCC’s regulatory calendar where there are few routine filing deadlines.  While stations that filed their renewal applications in February need to continue to run their post-filing announcements, and those that are going to file renewals in April (the end of the renewal cycle for radio stations) should be running their pre-filing announcements, the month is otherwise a quiet one.  There are no regularly-scheduled renewal filing deadlines, no deadlines for annual EEO or ownership reports, and no quarterly issues programs lists or children’s television reports.  All of those deadlines return with a vengeance in early April.  To help keep track on those dates applicable to stations in your area, we prepared a Broadcasters Regulatory Calendar, available here, that tracks many routine FCC filing deadlines, as well as other deadlines of importance to broadcasters throughout the remainder of 2014 – including lowest unit rate windows for the political broadcasting season, dates for submission of SoundExchange royalties, and some of the other regularly recurring deadlines for broadcasters .

 There are some comment dates in FCC proceedings of interest to broadcasters that fall later this month.  We recently wrote about the extension of the reply comment deadline for the proceeding to look at Revitalizing the AM Band (see our summary of the issues raised in that proceeding here and here).  Those Reply Comments are due on March 20.  On that same date, Reply Comments are due in an FCC proceeding to Accessibility of User Interfaces and Video Programming Guides.  The next week, on March 25, Reply Comments are due in the proceeding looking to change the FCC’s Sports Blackout Rules.  And for those stations lucky enough to be selected for the FCC’s latest random EEO audit, the responses are due on March 31 (see our article here). 
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