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They submitted comments on how to address the homogeneity that word of mouth recruiting can promote

WASHINGTON — Ahead of the 50th anniversary of the broadcast nondiscrimination rule, Maurita Coley and David Honig have written to the FCC on behalf of a group of supporters of Equal Employment Opportunity rules. They laid out several steps they want the commission to take relating to how stations meet these requirements.

They submitted comments in two open dockets having to do with FCC proposals to change or eliminate certain media rules.

Coley and Honig are the acting president/CEO and president emeritus and senior advisor, respectively, of the Multicultural Media, Telecom and Internet Council. They filed alongside the EEO Supporters, a list of 33 organization that includes the MMTC and other groups such as Dialogue on Diversity, NAACP, National Newspaper Publishers Association, Rainbow PUSH Coalition and others.

According to the letter, “On July 3, 1968, the FCC became the first federal agency to require its licensees to practice nondiscrimination in employment” — but the EEO supporters argue that the commission still has work to do to prevent discrimination, particularly in the area of “nearly exclusive word-of-mouth recruiting.”

Industry observers often remark about the lack of ethnic and gender diversity in broadcasting, and this element of the EEO rules is intended to address the homogeneity that word of mouth recruiting can promote when used exclusively or primarily, they wrote.

Prior to 2002, the commission assessed staff composition by using data from Form 395, and the EEO supporters want the FCC to rekindle this process — but to do so only after identifying stations that “recruit primarily by WOM, as opposed to recruiting online or through local community job boards, employment agencies or community groups.” Those that do so will be required to submit the form, which will then be used to assess whether or not inherent discrimination has occurred and whether sanctions are justified.

To ensure that the courts would find this acceptable, “the commission would use the data only for the narrowly tailored purpose of evaluating which stations’ staff compositions were so extremely homogeneous that their recruitment efforts by WOM must inevitably be regarded as discriminatory.”

Additionally, they recommend that the FCC evaluate its audit program to ensure that auditors have sufficient information to check that decisions were made after the jobs were publicized, and “that audits are allowed to uncover discrimination at the points of recruitment, interviewing and selection.”

Next, the commission should collect and publish an annual anonymized summary of aggregate Form 395 data and make it available to the public. This would help to track broadcast industry employment trends.

They also question whether the EEO enforcement should be moved under the umbrella of the Enforcement Bureau in a new “Civil Rights Section,” which would consist of actions regarding “procurement, transactions and advertising nondiscrimination enforcement.” The size of the EEO enforcement staff — seven people as opposed to 14 in the 1990s — was also highlighted as potentially problematic.

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But Democratic commissioners say the larger issue is the commission’s record on enforcing diverse hiring

WASHINGTON — The FCC has voted unanimously to propose eliminating some broadcaster EEO reporting requirements, yet another whack at regulations FCC chair Ajit Pai has pledged for each meeting, but not without commission Democrats calling for a deeper dive on the FCC’s role in promoting diversity.

The FCC is proposing no longer requiring a midterm report on employment practices to ensure EEO compliance. The FCC will still do midterm EEO reviews, per its statutory requirement. 

Pai said at the Feb. 22 public meeting that nearly all the information broadcasters are required to provide is now in online files, so the midterm report is an unnecessary burden.

Commissioner Brendan Carr pointed out that by March 1, the FCC will have completed the transition of all broadcaster public files to an online database.

“Given the ease with which the Commission can access these files, there is no longer any reason to continue requiring broadcasters to file redundant paperwork,” Carr said.

One piece of information in the required Form 397 report — the number of full-time employees — determines whether a station is subject to EEO, so the FCC asks as part of the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking how it can identify stations subject to EEO without the form.

“It’s fair to ask if this format is still necessary when so much of the information it gathers is already available in the public file,” said Rosenworcel. “But there is no question about what remains necessary — and that’s compliance with the law. Under the Communications Act, this agency has a duty to develop rules to support a mid-term review of the employment practices of broadcast licensees. This is a responsibility we must take seriously and, on that point, I think the text of this rulemaking misses the mark.

“It focuses on the need to reduce the burdens of filers but neglects to emphasize what is most essential — the need to honor our Equal Employment Opportunity policies,” she added.

Commissioner Mignon Clyburn agreed that the bigger issue is whether the FCC is doing its job to ensure that broadcasters are seeking diverse employees.

“If we are going to take a weed whacker to EEO reporting obligations that the majority deems to be ‘unnecessary’ or ‘unduly burdensome,’ then we ought to simultaneously discuss compliance practices, in order to ensure that the rules we have on the books are effectively enforced,” Clyburn said.

Clyburn said she was pleased questions about FCC enforcement were included in the NPRM, which she signaled was the reason she was able to vote to approve it.

Commissioner Michael O’Rielly said he has long thought the form needed to go. He said now that EEO reports are filed online, the requirement is irrelevant. He also said the item should not be hijacked by the larger issue — of FCC enforcement and diversity — the Democrats were raising, or by edits proposed in the 11th hour when he is trying to get home for his young child’s bath time.

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