FCC Equal Employment Opportunity Dispute Examined

WASHINGTON: Media attorney David Oxenford dug into the Minority Media & Telecom Council recent denouncement of the Federal Communications Commission’s Equal Employment Opportunity rules. (See “Minority Media & Telecom Council Flunk the FCC’s EEO Rules.”)

“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,” Oxenford writes at Davis Write Tremaine’s Broadcast Law Blog.

Oxenford said the MMTC acknowledged that recent EEO noncompliance fines have been leveled against stations with “very diverse workforces, and thus should not have to worry about EEO outreach.” The rules, he said, do not target minority and gender-based affirmative action strategies, which have been twice declared unconstitutional by a federal court. Instead, the FCC’s employment rules govern how stations go about publicizing job openings.

“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,” Oxenford said.

The MMTC called on the FCC to suspend enforcement of its current EEO rules for three months and revert to an earlier set of rules. The group wants the FCC to resurrect the form that requires stations to annually report the racial and gender composition of its workforce. The forms have been suspended for more than seven years due to the court rulings.

“Since then, the FCC has been seeking a way to bring back the form for statistical profiling of the industry without risking having the information used for enforcement purposes, but has not, as yet, adopted procedures to do so,” Oxenford said.

The MMTC is asking for several other changes in the way the FCC handles Equal Employment Opportunity issues, including more doing audits, assigning more staff to handle more thorough audits, and moving EEO responsibility from the Media to the Enforcement Bureau. The MMTC is also calling for an FCC investigation into why minority representation in broadcast journalism is declining.

“Whether any or all of these steps is taken remains to be seen,” Oxenford writes. “But what we are looking at in MMTC’s request is a return to an emphasis on minority and female hiring, not on simply hiring from all groups within the community, not exclusively from the ‘old boys’ network as currently required by the rules.”

Oxenford’s full post is available at the DWT Broadcast Law Blog.