station employment unit

The FCC yesterday released another of its regular EEO audit notices (available here), asking that approximately 240 radio stations and about 80 TV stations, and the station employment units (commonly owned stations serving the same area) with which they are associated, provide to the FCC (by posting the information in their online public inspection file) their last two year’s 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. Audited stations must provide copies of notices sent to employment outreach sources about each full-time vacancy at the stations as well as documentation of the supplemental efforts that all station employment units with 5 or more full-time employees are required to perform (whether or not they had job openings in any year). These non-vacancy specific outreach efforts are designed to educate the community about broadcast employment positions and to train employees for more senior roles in broadcasting. Stations must also provide, in response to the audit, information about how they self-assessed the performance of their EEO program. Stations that are listed in the audit notice have until March 23, 2020 to upload this information into their online public file.

The FCC has promised to randomly audit 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 license renewal cycle which began last year adds to the importance of this audit, as a broadcaster does not want a recent compliance issue to headline the record the FCC will be reviewing with its license renewal (see our article here about the license renewal cycle). So, whether you are on the list or not, this is a good time for broadcasters to review what is required by the FCC’s EEO rules.
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With the holiday season getting smaller in the rear-view mirror and many parts of the country dealing with ice, snow, and single-digit temperatures, broadcasters could be forgiven for dreaming about the sunshine and warmth that come with spring.  Before spring arrives, however, broadcasters need to tend to important regulatory matters in February.  And, if you find yourself eager to plan past February, use our 2020 Broadcasters’ Calendar as a reference tool for tracking regulatory dates through the end of 2020.

But focusing on the month ahead, by February 3, all AM, FM, LPFM, and FM translator stations in Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi must file their license renewal applications.  For the full-power stations in the state, there’s an additional EEO task to complete irrespective of how many employees a station employment unit (SEU) has.  Before filing for license renewal, stations in these three states must submit FCC Schedule 396. This schedule is the Broadcast Equal Employment Opportunity Program Report, which is a reporting to the FCC of the SEU’s equal employment opportunity activities for the last license period (SEUs with fewer than five full-time employees are not required to maintain an EEO recruitment program and are only required to check a box that they have fewer than 5 full-time employees and skip ahead to the certification).  The sequencing here is important: When filing for license renewal, the application (Schedule 303-S) asks for the file number of your already-filed Schedule 396.  So, without having already filed the schedule, you won’t be able to complete your renewal application.
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On Friday, the FCC issued its first EEO audit of almost 300 radio and TV stations across the country (see the model audit letter and list of stations affected here), the day after announcing its intent to abolish the Form 397 EEO Mid-Term Report (see our articles here and here).  In the Order announcing the forthcoming abolition of the Mid-Term Report, the FCC also noted its intent to being a proceeding in the next 90 days to reexamine the effectiveness of its EEO program – signaling that EEO remains a priority of the FCC and that this audit should be taken very seriously.  While the FCC each year promises to audit 5% of all full-power broadcast stations, and this audit is likely but the first of a number of EEO audits for the coming year, this upcoming review of the effectiveness of the FCC’s EEO process highlights the continued importance of EEO enforcement to the FCC.

The response to the audit must be completed by April 1.  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 anywhere, at any time, as long as they have an internet connection.  The upcoming license renewal cycle adds to the importance of this audit, as a broadcaster does not want a recent compliance issue to headline the record the FCC will be reviewing with its license renewal (see our article here about the upcoming license renewal cycle).  The audit requires that the broadcaster submit their last two EEO Public File Reports (which should already be in the online public file) and backing data to support all of the outreach efforts listed on those public file reports.  Broadcasters subject to the audit should carefully review the audit letter to see the details of the filing.
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The FCC this week announced its next EEO audit – one limited to only 69 radio stations. No television stations or cable systems were included in the audit notice. The Notice is available here, and list of stations involved is here. Responses to the audit are due August 6. Unlike the last audit (about which we wrote here), the responses will be sent to the FCC’s EEO division, not posted solely on the station’s online public file. Stations, of course, still have the obligation to post their response on the online public file, but they also have to submit the audit to the FCC.

If any station in your cluster is on the list of audited stations, all stations in that “station employment unit” (a group of commonly owned stations serving the same area with at least one common employee) must respond. If that cluster has 5 or more full-time employees, it must observe the FCC’s EEO requirements and respond to this audit, providing significant information about its hiring in the last two years.  Stations with fewer than 5 employees need provide only limited information about the positions of its employees and whether the station has been subject to any federal or state EEO complaints or legal actions. If a station that is being audited is involved in an LMA or time brokerage agreement with another broadcaster, the audit may require that the broker provide employment information as well as the licensee.  There are some exceptions where stations can be excused from the audit if they were recently renewed or audited.
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On Friday, the FCC issued a Public Notice announcing its first EEO audit of 2018. The Notice lists the almost 300 radio and television stations that will be subject to the review as well as the rules that apply to that audit. And those rules are somewhat new.  First, the notice itself was not sent by mail, but instead by email – the first time that email has been used to deliver the notice of an EEO audit.  Some broadcasters who received the email seemed surprised and wondered if the email really was an official FCC communication, so the FCC included verification methods in the letter including a link to the Public Notice.  So, if you are listed on the Public Notice, you are subject to the audit.

Second, the procedure for responding to the audit is different.  No longer does the broadcaster subject to the audit have to submit paper copies of all of its documents to the FCC through the FCC Secretary’s office.  Instead, the response will be filed in the station’s online public file.  The response must be uploaded to the online public file by April 12.  There, the FCC can review that response (as can anyone else anywhere, at any time, as long as they have an internet connection).  The audit requires that the broadcaster submit their last two EEO Public File Reports (which should already be in the online public file) and backing data to support the outreach efforts.  Broadcasters subject to the audit should carefully review the audit letter to see the details of the filing.
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While the FCC in April made broadcaster’s compliance with the FCC’s EEO rules easier by allowing the wide dissemination of information about job openings through online sources (see our article here), there still remain significant obligations under those rules (see our article here). The FCC made that clear on Friday, releasing a Public Notice announcing its second EEO audit letter of 2017 for about 80 radio broadcasters, all west of the Mississippi. The FCC’s public notice announcing the commencement of the audit includes the audit letter that was sent to all of the targeted stations.  The list of about 80 radio stations subject to the audit is here. Responses are due July 27, 2017. As employment information for all stations within a named station’s “employment unit” must be provided in response to the audit, the reach of this notice goes beyond the 80 stations named in the audit notices.

The FCC reminds stations that were targeted by the audit to put a copy of the audit letter in their public file. The response, too, must go into the file. For all the TV stations hit by the audit letter, and those radio stations that have already converted to the online public file, that will mean that the audit letter and response go into that FCC-hosted online public file.
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In the swirl of news about the deregulatory efforts of the new FCC, one could almost forget that there are still many regulations in place that require significant amounts of paperwork retention by broadcasters. That point was hammered home yesterday, when the FCC released its first EEO audit letter of 2017 for radio and TV broadcasters. The FCC’s public notice announcing the commencement of the audit includes the audit letter that was sent to all of the targeted stations.  The list of over 200 radio stations subject to the audit is here. The list of almost 80 TV stations is here. Responses are due March 28, 2017. As employment information for all stations within a named station’s “employment unit” must be provided in response to the audit, the reach of this notice goes far beyond the 300 stations targeted in the audit notices. While the FCC is considering a proposal to allow online recruiting sources to suffice to meet a broadcaster’s wide dissemination requirements (as we wrote here), that proposal is still at an early stage and, as this audit notice evidences, the underlying rules remain in place.

The FCC reminds stations that were targeted by the audit to put a copy of the audit letter in their public file. The response, too, must go into the file. For all the TV stations hit by the audit letter, and those radio stations that have already converted to the online public file, that will mean that the audit letter and response go into that FCC-hosted online public file.

The Commission has pledged to randomly 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 FCC EEO issues here, reminding broadcasters of the possibility of being audited.  The FCC also has the opportunity to audit larger broadcasters’ EEO performance when they file their FCC EEO Mid-Term Report. We also wrote about the start of the obligations for the filing of FCC Form 397 EEO Mid-Term Reports – which started the year before last for radio groups with more than 11 full-time employees and last year for TV licensees with 5 or more full-time employees in a few months, 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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The FCC today released its most recent EEO audit letter for broadcasters – and it is a relatively brief list – just one page with 58 radio stations listed (compare this with the last audit that targeted about 280 radio and TV stations, see our article here).  The FCC’s public notice includes the audit letter that was sent to all of the targeted stations.  Responses are due July 28, 2016. The FCC reminds stations that were targeted by the audit to put a copy of the audit letter in their public file. The response, too, must go into the file. While there are very few Top 50 market stations on the list, those that are listed will need to right away upload the response in their online public file if they file after June 24, the effective date of the online public file for new documents filed by Top 50 market commercial stations that are part of an employment unit with 5 or more full-time employees (see this article for more information on the online public file for radio).

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 FCC EEO issues here, reminding broadcasters of the possibility of being audited.  We also wrote about the start of the obligations for the filing of FCC Form 397 EEO Mid-Term Reports – which started last year for radio groups with more than 11 full-time employees and will extend to TV licensees with 5 or more full-time employees in a few months, 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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The FCC today issued a Public Notice announcing its first EEO audit for 2016.  Letters to about 280 radio and television stations went out on February 24 asking for evidence of their compliance with the FCC’s EEO rules.  In today’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 April 11. Licensees should carefully review this list of affected stations which was released with the Public Notice to see if any of their stations have been selected for the audit.

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 FCC EEO issues here, reminding broadcasters of the possibility of being audited.  We also wrote about the start of the obligations for the filing of FCC Form 397 EEO Mid-Term Reports – which started last year for radio groups with more than 11 full-time employees and will extend to TV licensees with 5 or more full-time employees in a few months, 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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EEO Mid-Term Reports on FCC Form 397 must be filed at the mid-point of the renewal cycle of radio stations if they are part of a station employment unit with more than 10 full-time employees, or 5 or more full-time employees for TV. A station employment unit is one or more commonly-controlled stations serving substantially the same area, and sharing at least one employee. As it has been 4 years since the first radio renewal applications were filed in the last license renewal cycle, June 1 brings the deadline for radio groups in Maryland, DC, Virginia and West Virginia that have more than 11 or more full-time (30 hours per week) employees to file their Form 397 Reports. The FCC yesterday issued a reminder to stations about this obligation.

The reminder does not address in any detail the content of the form. Essentially, the Form 397 (which can be viewed here) is like the Form 396 filed by stations in connection with their license renewal applications. After providing identifying information, the form requires that station licensees identify a person who is responsible for EEO compliance at the station, and to attach their last two EEO Public Inspection File Reports – the most recent of which will, for stations in these states, need to be placed in the public inspection file by June 1. These Public Inspection File reports can be reviewed by the FCC to assess the hiring efforts made by the broadcaster for job openings in the last two years to insure that the station’s outreach efforts to prospective new employees were sufficiently broad to attract applicants from all significant groups within the station’s service area. We wrote about the basics of the FCC’s EEO policies for broadcasters here.
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