The FCC last week released its first EEO audit notice for 2024.  The FCC’s Public Notice, audit letter, and the list of stations selected for audit is available here.  Those stations, and the station employment units (commonly owned or controlled stations serving the same area sharing at least one employee) with which they are associated, must provide to the FCC (by uploading the information to their online public inspection file) their last two years of EEO Annual Public File reports, as well as backing data to show that the station in fact did everything that was required under the FCC rules.  The response to this audit is due to be uploaded to the public file of affected stations by May 6, 2024. The audit notice says that stations audited in 2022 or 2023, or whose license renewals were filed after February 1, 2022, can ask the FCC for further instructions, possibly exempting them from the audit because of the recent FCC review of their performance. 

With the release of this audit, and last year’s $25,000 fine proposed for some Kansas radio stations that had not fully met their EEO obligations (see our article here), it is important to review your EEO compliance even if your stations are not subject to this audit.  The FCC has promised to randomly audit approximately 5% of all broadcast stations each year. As the response (and the audit letter itself) must be uploaded to the public file, it can be reviewed not only by the FCC, but also by anyone else with an internet connection anywhere, at any time.  The Kansas fine, plus a recent $26,000 fine imposed on Cumulus Media for a late upload of a single EEO Annual Public File Report (see our article here), and the FCC’s recent decision to bring back EEO Form 395 reporting on the race and gender of all station employees (see our article here), shows how seriously the FCC takes EEO obligations.Continue Reading FCC Issues First EEO Audit Notice for 2024 – 250 Radio and TV Stations To Have Employment Activities for the Last Two Years Reviewed

The full Commission this week issued an Order fining Cumulus Media $26,000 for its failure to upload one EEO Annual Public File Report to its online public inspection file until about 9 months after the due date.  The unanimous decision of the five Commissioners generally upheld an EEO Notice of Apparent Liability, issued unanimously by all four FCC Commissioners about two years ago, where the Commission had proposed a $32,000 fine on the company for its failure to timely upload the annual EEO report for a cluster of five co-owned stations in a Georgia market (and the fact that a link to that report on each stations’ website was also missing for that period).  The principal change in this week’s decision was to reduce the fine that had been proposed by $6,000, reflecting the amount that the Notice of Apparent Liability had assessed for the licensee’s failure to self-assess its EEO program. Broadcasters are required to regularly assess the effectiveness of their EEO program.  The proposed fine was imposed on the theory that, if the licensee had been regularly assessing its program, it would have noted that the required report had not made it to the online public file and fixed that problem.  This week’s decision reaffirms that reasoning but reduces the fine by the amount allocated to the failure to self-assess the program, finding that Cumulus may not have had notice that reviewing public file uploads was part of the obligation to self-assess.

It is very important to note that this decision did not cite any failure by the licensee to recruit widely when it had open positions, nor any failure of the group to conduct the required EEO non-vacancy specific outreach (these obligations described in our posts here and here).  The alleged violations cited in the decision were simply tied to the failure to upload the annual report.  In fact, Cumulus stated that the report was prepared on time, but was not uploaded to the public file because of an administrative oversight due to staff turnover.  While the base fine for this violation totaled less than $10,000, the proposed fine was increased because Cumulus was found to have previous FCC rule violations for EEO and sponsorship identification matters.  Both Cumulus and the NAB argued that this amount was excessive for a single instance of a paperwork shortcoming – the FCC rejecting that reasoning, finding that the upload was a critical part of the broadcaster’s EEO obligations as it gives the public a way to monitor the performance of the licensee. Continue Reading FCC Imposes $26,000 Fine on Broadcaster for One EEO Annual Public File Report that was Uploaded Late

Earlier this week, the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau issued a Notice of Apparent Liability proposing a $25,000 fine on two related companies operating clusters of stations in two small Kansas markets.  Those clusters have, because of financial setbacks (leading to bankruptcy), reduced staff so that they no longer have 5 full-time employees at either cluster and thus are no longer subject to the FCC’s EEO outreach requirements. In this Notice, the FCC staff looked back to a few isolated violations in 2020 and 2021, when the stations had 5 or more full-time employees, to justify the proposed $25,000 fine.

The Enforcement Bureau pointed to the late upload to the online public file of three Annual EEO Public File Reports. The Bureau also pointed to the late upload of two Annual EEO Public File Reports at one of the clusters, and one late upload at the other cluster.  Both the 2020 and 2021 reports for one cluster were uploaded in June 2021, when the reports were due in February of each year.  Thus, one report was 5 months late, the other 17 months late.  At the other cluster, the 2021 report was uploaded a year late.  There was no allegation that the reports were not completed on time – just that they were not timely uploaded.Continue Reading $25,000 Proposed Fine for Alleged EEO Violations at Kansas Radio Clusters – A Higher Standard for FCC EEO Enforcement?