As I was preparing for a session updating and refreshing broadcasters about their obligations under the FCC’s EEO rules at the Iowa Broadcasters Association annual convention in Des Moines on June 30, I learned of what seemed to be a startling development – the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council, one of the most effective advocates in Washington for minority hiring and ownership, had urged the FCC to suspend its enforcement of the EEO rules. What was this all about? I went on with my presentation (the PowerPoint slides for which are available here, and the slides for the presentation that I did at another session providing an update on Washington issues for radio broadcasters are available here), quickly adding a summary of the MMTC request. While some broadcasters might have hoped that the request recognized that the EEO rules were no longer necessary as broadcasters were, on their own, making great strides in diversifying their workforce, in fact what the MMTC was seeking was tighter EEO enforcement, contending that the current rules are so ineffective as to not be worth the time spent on their implementation and enforcement.
While MMTC acknowledged that there have been a number of recent cases fining stations for noncompliance with the EEO rules, it contends that often the stations that are hit by such fines have very diverse workforces, and thus should not have to worry about EEO outreach. We have written about some of these fines. These cases demonstrate that the current rules are not targeted at minority and gender-based affirmative action, as FCC rules requiring any evaluation of minority and gender-based hiring were twice declared by the US Court of Appeals to be instances of unconstitutional reverse discrimination. Instead, the current rules are focused instead on bringing new people into the broadcast employment workforce – people recruited from a wide variety of community groups, and not exclusively by word of mouth or through other hiring avenues that simply take people from traditional broadcast hiring sources. But, as MMTC points out, these rules are not based on necessarily seeking to include members of minority groups or women in station workforces. Thus, as their focus is simply on wide dissemination of information about job openings, even stations that have high percentages of minorities and women on their staffs can still run afoul of the rules by not publicizing job openings.