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.
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. The FCC also has the opportunity to review 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, and are filed on the 4th anniversary of the filing deadline for the station’s license renewal.
The audit letter requires all stations with 5 or more full-time (30 or more hours per week) employees to provide a significant amount of information about their EEO programs and recruiting efforts (including copies of their 2 latest Annual EEO public file reports and documentation backing up the efforts listed on those reports). Even stations with fewer than 5 full-time employees need to report the job titles of their employees and the number of hours they are assigned to work each week, and provide any information about law suits, EEOC complaints or similar employment actions dealing with equal employment or discrimination matters. Information about any time brokerage agreement must also be disclosed.
If any station in your cluster is on the list, 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. But, if a cluster has been audited in 2015 or 2016, or if its renewal was granted in the last 18 months, the FCC may allow you to avoid responding to this audit – but you have to request that “pass” from the FCC. If a station that is being audited is involved in an LMA with another broadcaster, the audit may require that the broker provide employment information as well as the licensee.
Many broadcasters complain that the EEO rules are among their more burdensome paperwork requirements, and no doubt much time and money will be spent responding to this audit notice. There has been some discussion among broadcasters as to whether further EEO reform would be appropriate as part of the FCC’s Modernization of Media Regulation proceeding, comments on which are due July 5 (see our article here). In light of this new audit notice, broadcasters may well want to consider such comments.