In three cases released last week, the FCC made clear that its EEO rules, requiring wide dissemination of information about job opportunities at broadcast stations (and cable systems), are not satisfied by solely posting of information about openings on websites.  Instead, the Commission required that additional outreach efforts be undertaken in order to assure that the notice of the job opening reaches all groups within a  community.  The decisions pointed to the FCC’s 2003 Report and Order adopting the current rules which stated that the FCC did not feel that the Internet was sufficiently ubiquitous that they could feel comfortable with on-line postings being sufficient to reach all groups within a community.  In the recent decisions, the FCC staff said that they were not ready to change the determination of the 2003 Commission.

What does this mean on a practical level?  The decisions hold that simply using internal station sources plus on-line postings (in one case website postings plus some combination of walk-ins, industry referrals, and internal postings; in another case  the use of the station’s website, plus employee referrals) were insufficient to assure wide dissemination.  To avoid getting caught in this trap, broadcasters must use some other traditional outreach services (e.g. employment agencies, community groups, educational institutions, and the local newspapers) to assure that they meet the Commission’s wide dissemination requirements. 


Continue Reading On-line Recruitment Not Sufficient EEO Outreach for the FCC

The FCC today released another Public Notice announcing the random audit of the EEO performance of a number of broadcast stations – listing both radio and television stations that have to respond, with stations spread throughout the country.  The FCC has promised to annually audit 5% of all broadcast licensees to assess their compliance with the FCC’s EEO rules.  These rules require the wide dissemination of information about job openings at their stations and "supplemental efforts" to educate their communities about employment opportunities at broadcast stations, even in the absence of employment openings.  The FCC’s audit letter requires the submission of two years worth of the Annual Public File reports that stations prepare each year on the anniversary date of the filing of their license renewal applications.  These reports are placed in the station’s public file and posted on their websites (if they have websites).  The FCC’s public notice about this audit emphasizes the requirement for posting the Annual Report on a station’s website, perhaps confirming rumors that we have heard about the FCC’s staffers browsing station websites to look for these reports.

Stations are given until May 4 to complete the audit responses and submit them to the Commission.  Note that information needs to be supplied not just for the station named on the list, but also for all other stations in the same "station employment unit," i.e. a group of stations under common control, that serve the same general geographic area, and which have at least one common employee.  As recent audits have led to significant FCC fines (see our story here about fines issues just before the holidays), broadcasters who are listed on this audit list should take care in preparing their responses.  The audit notice should also remind other licensees who are lucky enough to avoid having been selected for inclusion on this audit list to review their EEO programs for FCC compliance purposes, as they could very well find themselves not so fortunate when the next FCC audit is announced.


Continue Reading FCC Launches New Round of EEO Audits – Highlights the Requirment for Posting Annual Report on Station’s Website

Just after Christmas, the FCC gave a number of broadcasters the equivalent of coal in their stocking – fining six different licensees for violations of the FCC’s EEO rules.  The fines issued that day ranged between $7,000 and $20,000, and included penalties issued to major broadcasting companies including Fox and Cumulus.  Also included were fines against Urban Radio in New York City and Puerto Rico Public Broadcasting – demonstrating that the FCC’s EEO rules, adopted in late 2002 after previous rules were declared unconstitutional essentially on "reverse discrimination" grounds (as they encouraged broadcasters to make hiring decisions not based on qualifications but instead based on race or gender), are truly race and gender blind.  It would be logical to assume that Urban Radio and Puerto Rico Public Broadcasting both had significant numbers of minority-group members on their staffs but, as they could not demonstrate that they had complied with the new rules requirements to reach out to all groups in their communities (as opposed to just racial or gender focused groups), they were assessed fines.  Reporting conditions, requiring that the broadcasters regularly file reports with the FCC so that their EEO efforts can be monitored, were also imposed.  All of the decisions can be found on the FCC’s Daily Digest for that day, here.

The basis of all of these fines was the failure of the licensees to be able to demonstrate that they had "widely disseminated" information about all of their job openings.  The core of the 2002 EEO regulations was the requirement that licensees broadly disseminate notice about their job openings in such a way so as reach all of the significant groups within the community that the station serves.  The Commission was not looking to specifically force minority hiring, but instead to push for hiring from diverse sources.  The Commission wanted to push broadcasters to use recruitment sources beyond the existing broadcast community – so that hiring was not simply done by word of mouth or from within other professional broadcast circles.   Thus, the rules require that broadcasters use recruitment sources that reach out to various groups within their community and document those efforts. 


Continue Reading FCC Fines Multiple Broadcast Stations for EEO Violations – Fines Up to $20,000 Imposed

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

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